Dutch letters in the London National Archives

This Saturday (11 February 2006), an article by historian Roelof van Gelder appeared in the Dutch paper NRC Handelsblad on the presence of piles of Dutch letters from the Late Modern period in the National Archives in London. The letters are part of so-called "prize papers", papers which were confiscated when Dutch ships were pirated by the English navy during the wars between the two countries at the time. There are letters from children to fathers in the East or West Indies, from jilted lovers, from local administrators begging for financial support, and much, much more besides. What a treasure trove! The Royal Library in the The Hague is currently preparing a database of the letters, and summaries will soon be published on the website of the National Archives (Search Catalogue: HCA 30, 32, 49).

Roelof van Gelder rightly notes that the letters should contain important material for studying the language of the common man (women and children included!). In order to be of real use to the sociolinguistic historian, I hope that proper attention is paid to the transcription of the letters.

What I’d be interested to know is whether the collection includes English letters as well. These would be of particular interest to our project.

Preposition stranding

Could it be that, like double negation, preposition stranding is an icon of prescriptivism? Both occur in David Crystal’s Grammatical Top Ten (Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, p. 194), and there is also, intrestingly, a reference to preposition stranding in Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada (2003). On p. 330, the main character of the novel "quietly berated myself for ending a sentence with a preposition and took one last look around the magnificent room". I suppose the sentence is meant to have a humorous effect, but perhaps you have to like the book in order to appreciate this particular linguistic joke.

American grammarians

This entry was written by Victorina González Díaz

Dear All

I am currently doing some work on British vs. American grammarians from 1700-1900. I’ve been able to compile a rather large list of references on British grammarians and their ideology; however, my bibliography on American grammarians is rather limited (the most useful references I’ve found are Butters’ and Finegan’s chapters in CHEL 7 and some articles on Noah Webster).

I’d therefore be very grateful if anybody could point me to some relevant work on the topic. Thanks in advance for your help!


Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

In her article on children’s correspondence in the Netherlands (17701850) (see Paedagogica Historica, Vol 41, No.3, June 2005), Willemijn Ruberg notes that during the years 1836 and 1837 the letters of Lady Montagu, in which she writes about her travels, were part of the curriculum of the three sons of the Hubrecht family. Between the ages of ten and twelve the boys studied "with Mr De Gelder, who headed a boarding school in Leiden. They had to learn rhetoric, of which the composition of letters formed a part" (2005:297).

Reminiscences of Boswell and Johnson

This entry was written by Lyda Fens.

When preparing to write my MA thesis on how the 18c American Benjamin Rush used epistolary formulas, I found that he had written

Reminiscences of Boswell & Johnson.

Apparently, "130 copies of this pamphlet … were made for Mr. & Mrs. Donald F. Hyde, of Somerville, New Jersey" in 1946. This Mrs Hyde is Mary, Viscountess Eccles. I’m very interested to see a copy of it. Since I’d rather not have to go all the way to Houghton Library at Harvard – where they may have it as part of the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson – I’d like to know where I might be able to find one (possibly buy one?). I would very much appreciate your suggestions.

Robert Lowth and Hannah More

"Reconsidering the Bluestockings" (2003, eds. Pohl & Schellenberg) has an interesting article by Susan Staves on Church of England clergymen and women writers. Robert Lowth was among the friends and correspondents of Bluestocking and philantropist Hannah More. They read each other’s works, and Lowth apparently encouraged More to publish her poem ‘Sensibility’ which was something of a tribute to the "in-crowd" of literary London. It includes a reference to Lowth himself. More writes to her sister in 1781: "Mrs. Kennicott tells me Bishop Lowth insists upon my publishing ‘Sensibility’, and all my other poems together, immediately, that people may have them all together" (p.94). The poem can be found here: http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Etexts/more.html

More wrote to her friend Frances Boscawen (another Bluestocking, to whom ‘Sensibility’ was dedicated) apparently in 1782 that she was reading Lowth’s "Isaiah. A New Translation. With Notes", and recommended Lowth’s "De Sacra Poesi" to her "as a treasure": it "has taught me to consider the Divine Book it illustrates under many new and striking points of view; it teaches to appreciate the distinct and characteristic excellence of the sacred poetry and historians, in a manner wonderfully entertaining and instructive" (p.82). Staves notes that an English translation of Praelectiones de Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum came out in 1787, so if the editor William Roberts (1834) dated this letter correctly, More perhaps had access to the English translation before its publication. (More could read Latin, though.) There is no mention of Lowth’s grammar, unfortunately!

the English codifiers and the German tradition

I wonder if anyone has done any work on the influence of English codifiers like Ash and Lowth on the German grammatical tradition. It should be an interesting topic, as Ash’s grammar (1760) was translated into German by Christian Reichel in 1775 (see Alston’s bibliography). Lowth’s grammar was translated into German fifteen years later (also by Christian Reichel!). Possibly, there is a relationship between the two, as Ash’s grammar was subtitled "an easy introduction to Dr. Lowth’s English grammar". Murray’s influence on English language teaching has already been dealt with by Frederike Klippel (1996).

normative grammarians obsessed with multiple negation

Why would normative grammarians be so obsessed with multiple negation? This is a question that has been bothering me for some time now. Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg (2003) have shown that multiple negation was already stigmatised at the end of the seventeenth century, so why do grammarians from the eighteenth century onwards continue to include strictures against multiple negation in their grammars?

I have just read an article by Gerhard Leitner, called "English grammars – past, present and future" (1986), in which he discusses the Englische Grammatik  of 1860-1965 (can this date be correct?) by E. Mätzner. Mätzner attributes the rule by which two negatives cancel each other out to Latin influence, while he considers the reinforcement of negation by two or more negatives as normal because it is well-entrenched in Germanic languages. Mätzner, according to Leitner, was "aware of social, geographical and stylistic variation" (1986:417). What kind of variety was he focussing on when observing that multiple negation was normal practice or, in other words, acceptable usage?

our weblog

Yesterday, our weblog was reviewed by Patrick Klaassen in a one-day ICT seminar in Louvain. Patrick’s paper was called "Bloggen in Leiden", and he analysed eight different Leiden weblogs. About ours he said that it was a good example of how a weblog can be integrated into a research project!

Relevant paper

This entry was written by Annegien Theunissen

The following is only of indirect interest, but I would like to draw your attention (especially for Victorina Gonzalez-Diaz’ research) to a paper given at the Amsterdam Colloquium (Semantics) by Petra Hendriks, Helen de Hoop, and Monique Lamers, called Asymmetries in Language Use Reveal Asymmetries in the Grammar. This paper can be read/downloaded from the colloquium website: www.illc.uva.nl/AC05 via the link Proceedings, then click the right side of the line on the Proceedings.