Contact us

P.N. van Eijckhof 4
P.O. Box 9515
2300 RA Leiden
tel: +31 71 5272163

If you would like to suggest a new topic to put on this web log, please email us.

About this weblog

Welcome to the weblog of The Codifiers and the English Language!

Our project aims to trace different aspects of the process of linguistic influence: between individuals, within social networks, from grammars and grammarians on other grammars as well as on speakers and writers of English. With the help of the weblog, we hope to establish a community of scholars working in the same field but also beyond, primarily because we would like to share our knowledge with the outside world but also because we would like to profit from knowledge of people interested in our project. We invite you to visit our weblog as often as you wish, to contribute to ongoing discussions, to profit from results we expect to obtain from our research and, frankly, to help us with our research. If you have any suggestions for topics that should be put on this web log, please do not hesitate to email us.

To summarise our aims and intentions with this weblog with a quotation from the preface to the second edition of Priestley’s grammar:

“It is from an amicable union of labours, together with a generous emulation in all the friends of science, that we may most reasonably expect the extension of all kinds of knowledge” (1768:xxiii).


Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade

My name is Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade and I have a chair in English sociohistorical linguistics in the English department of the University of Leiden. My research has been on various topics: multiple negation, periphrastic do, and the language of a number of eighteenth-century authors (Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Betsy Sheridan, Fanny Burney, Sarah Fielding, John Gay and, more recently, Robert Lowth).

I am interested in applying methods from modern sociolinguistics, particularly the Milroys’ model of Social Network Analysis, to past stages of English, and I believe that doing so contributes to a better understanding of how and why language changes.

My PhD thesis, which was supervised by Noel Osselton, was on periphrastic do in eighteenth-century English (1987), and since then I published a book on the use of multiple negation in Malory’s Morte Darthur (1995). I edited a variety of international collections of articles: the Festschrift for Noel Osselton (with John Frankis), Towards a Standard Language 1600–1800 (with Dieter Stein), Hundred Years of Lindley Murray, Negation in the History of English (with Gunnel Tottie and Wim van der Wurff), Do in English, Dutch and German. History and Present-Day Variation (with Marijke van der Wal and Arjan van Leuvensteijn), A Reader in Early Modern English (with Mats Rydén, and Merja Kytö) and Social Network Analysis and the History of English (with Terttu Nevalainen and Luisella Caon). In 2000, I set up an electronic journal called Historical Sociolinguistics and Sociohistorical Linguistics, which is unique in its kind and which is now in its sixth year.

I recently received a big grant from the Dutch national research council, which has enabled me to set up the project The Codifiers and the English Language, which is supported by this weblog.

Anita Auer

Anita Auer joined the English Department at the University of Leiden in August 2005 as a Postdoc/Junior Lecturer. Her research interests can be summarised as language change, (socio-)historical linguistics, corpus linguistics, stylistics, dialectology, the interface between manuscript and print, prescriptivism and comparative standardology. Within "The Codifiers and the English Language", she researches the influence of normative grammarians.

I have so far published an article with the title “The treatment of the subjunctive in eighteenth-century grammars of English” in Paradigm 2/8, 3-18. An article titled “Eighteenth-century prescriptivism in English – a re-evaluation of its effects on actual language usage”, which I co-authored with Victorina González-Díaz (Liverpool), is due to appear in Multilingua. The article “Precept and Practice: The Influence of Prescriptivism on the English Subjunctive”, which will appear in the Proceedings of the ICEHL 13, 2004, is currently being prepared for press.

Karlijn Navest

Karlijn Navest is engaged in studying eighteenth-century grammars for children as a PhD student.
My interest in eighteenth-century grammarians was aroused during a special course I took in the final stages of my studies, called “Grammars and Grammarians in the Eighteenth Century” (tutor: I.M. Tieken-Boon van Ostade). My final paper for this course dealt with the grammarian Lady Ellenor Fenn (1744–1813), whose grammatical works were specifically aimed at a young audience and who developed interesting pedagogical ideas in teaching children the rudiments of English grammar.

While writing my MA thesis “Epistolary formulas in Queeney Thrale’s letters” (2003), I gradually discovered my interest in doing research. For the last three years I have been collecting the in and out-letters of Queeney Thrale (1764–1857), Henry and Hester Thrale’s eldest daughter. My interest in eighteenth-century letters and art led me to write an article on Sir Joshua Reynolds’s use of yours affectionately/yours sincerely (

As a research assistant at the English Department of the University of Leiden, I was engaged in studying the differences between the first three editions of Robert Lowth’s A Short Introduction to English Grammar. I also wrote an article titled “The unidentified hands: annotating Lowth’s Short Introduction to English Grammar”, which is about to be submitted, and I wrote the entry on Lowth for the Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics 2nd Edition.

Froukje Henstra

PhD student Froukje Henstra is conducting a case study of the language of Horace Walpole and his social network.

In the VICI-Project I am conducting a case study of the language of Horace Walpole and his social network, amongst other things through studying their correspondence. During my studies at the English department I took a course on socio-historical linguistics “Women in the Vanguard of Linguistic Change” (tutor dr. I.M. Tieken Boon-van Ostade) for which I wrote an essay on the language of Horace Walpole and some of his female correspondents. I discovered that I really enjoyed researching and writing while working on this and other research essays.

My MA thesis, “A Family Affair, Social Network Analysis and the Language of the Walpoles” (2006, unpublished) was a pilot study of the social network of Horace Walpole in the form of a network strength analysis of a cluster of network members, namely the Walpole family. I am currently working with the findings from this pilot study, especially concerning methodology, and I hope to expand on and corroborate them through analysis of linguistic data from the correspondence of the network members.

Before my PhD appointment I had already worked as a student-assistant at the English department, teaching “Language Lab” courses on pronunciation and fluency. My research interests besides socio-historical linguistics and the Eighteenth century are (English) historical linguistics in general, (historical) phonology, language variation and dialectology, Old Frisian and book and publishing studies.


All our relevant links:

Full Project Description
Current Results
HSL/SHL electronic journal
Eighteenth-Century Resources
Henry Sweet Society
History of the English Language
Peeter Heyns Genootschap

Three year postdoctoral fellowship at Aberdeen

The University of Aberdeen has an opening for a three-year postdoctoral research assistantship on lexical change in the dialects of the fishing communities of eastern Scotland. The specific requirements are contained in the link below, but they are essentially looking for a sociolinguist/dialectologist with some background in historical linguistics.

The job is decsribed here:

Postdoctoral Researcher

Postdoctoral Researcher


The changing verb phrase in present-day British English.

Applications are invited for the post above which is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and tenable for three years, starting 1 September 2007.

Applicants must have a PhD in (English) Linguistics, preferably with a specialisation in historical linguistics. A knowledge of statistics and corpus linguistic methodology is an advantage.

The salary (to be confirmed) is GBP26,666 + a London Allowance of GBP2,572 Closing date for applications: Tuesday 3 July 2007 Interviews will take place on Thursday 12 July 2007.

You must normally be permitted to work in the UK.

Please send three copies of your application containing a statement in support of your application, a CV and two full references (not names) to the address below. References may be sent under separate cover by referees.

Emailed or faxed applications are not acceptable, unless there are special circumstances.

We regret that we are not able to acknowledge receipt of applications. We will only contact you in case you are shortlisted.

For further details of the project see:

A job description appears here:


Professor Bas Aarts

Department of English Language and Literature University College London Gower Street London WC1E 6BT UK


Tel: 00 44 20 7679 3130


Monthly Lunch Meeting

On 25 May Victorina Gonzalez-Diaz will present her paper "Lose your language and you lose your soul": Prescriptivism in the media (1985-2005) from 12:00-13:00 in 1166 003A. All welcome!

Jane Johnson’s Manuscript Nursery Library

While attending the Acts of Reading: Teachers, Texts and Childhood from the 18thc to the present day conference in Cambridge, I found out all about Jane Johnson and her nursery library. The Jane Johnson’s Manuscript nursery library consists of material devised by Jane (Russell) Johnson (1708-1759), wife of the Reverend Woolsey Johnson (1696-1756), between 1740 and 1759 for the instruction of her children. The materials consist of 438 items and are arranged in 24 groups. Included are alphabet, word and story cards, and secular and religous lesson cards, all hand-made. Some of the cards contain coloured illustrations and are decorated with multi-coloured Dutch paper. Set no.7 is of great interest since it has the largest group of materials. According to the Lilly Library, it includes "78 word chips denoting chiefly food products such as Ale, Almonds, Bacon, … , Veal, Water, Wild-fowl, housed in a small paper box decorated with playing card symbols cut from a Dutch-made paper".

Read more »

Prescriptive grammar lesson

On Language Log a comic was posted recently which depicts a grammar lesson. It struck me particularly since the grammatical shibboleths discussed in the comic can all be found in the grammatical tradition of the Late Modern English period. We see double negation, irregular use of perfect and simple past forms in the strong verb paradigm (see Oldireva-Gustafson 2002, Lass 1994 and Cheshire 1994 (these last two can be found in Stein & Tieken 1994)) and also irregular pronomonal usage (see, for example, Tieken 1994, also in Stein & Tieken 1994). 

It is also interesting to see the teacher utter sentiments about the link between social and linguistic insecurity which is likely to have been a major drive for the popularity of the normative grammars in the Late Modern English period.


For Better or Worse, 22 april 2007

On Language Log, Heidi Harley’s commentary on this comic illustrates how prescriptivist attitudes can arouse strong feelings about what ‘Grammar’ is, and about how to deal with the grammatical tradition which grew from the time of the Codifiers.

She calls the comic "a prescriptivist nightmare, framed in the normative language of correctness and error, perpetuating the notion that there is such a thing as ‘good grammar’ that is ‘difficult to learn’". What discourages her most is "the idea that, for 99.99% of the educated American public, this is what ‘grammar’ is: a laundry list of half-remembered strictures against certain forms and usages, understood as commandments from on high about How To Do Right, not even dignified with a discussion of what the proscribed forms and usages actually are, grammatically speaking". She argues that "[t]his stuff is not ‘English Grammar’. At best, it’s lessons in (Standard American) English Deportment and Etiquette. It is really, really demoralizing that almost nobody out there knows the difference."

It is interesting for us, who study the prescriptivist and normative tradition, to see how the definition of what ‘grammar’ is apparently still varies between different groups of people: there are the "99,99% of the educated American public" who apparently (and according to Harley wrongly?) see ‘grammar’ in the sense it had in the normative tradition as prescription of ‘correct usage’, versus the modern linguist’s idea of descriptive grammar.

N.B. I am not in any way claiming that either view of grammar is right or better, or even that the views of grammar are as irreconcilable as is popularly assumed. My point is that it is interesting to see differing concepts of grammar pop-up over the internet also with reference to popular culture.

Johnson correspondent Miss Hill Boothby

Paul Ruxin asks if someone has any letters or other examples of the handwriting of Miss Hill Boothby, the 18th century corespondent of Dr. Samuel Johnson. He has recently acquired a first edition of Johnson’s Dictionary, inscribed, "miss Hill Boothby from the author, and wishes to determine whether it is in her handwriting.