Standard English in America

In this project I research attitudes to prescriptivism, standard English, and the standard language ideology in the United States of America. It grew out of my work as a researcher in the project Bridging the Unbridgeable: linguists, prescriptivists and the general public at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics. I investigate how standard English and what is called the standard language ideology in America affects prescriptivism; how it relates to social class, race relations, and education; and how this affects the way Americans see each other and interact with each other.

Joseph Priestley, grammarian

The eighteenth century was a key period in the establishment of standard English. This period, referred to by linguists as the Late Modern English period, witnessed the publication of an unprecedented number of normative works aiming to define ‘correct’ English. The Englishman Joseph Priestley (1733–1804) is best known as a scientist and theologian, but his Rudiments of English Grammar, which first appeared in 1761, is an important work in the wave of English normative grammars published in the late eighteenth century.

I investigate Priestley’s role in the codification of the English language. The influence of Priestley’s grammar on the development of the standard language has been underestimated and merits re-evaluation. Priestley’s ideas on grammar are related to his broader philosophical thinking. Although Priestley is usually seen as one of the few descriptive grammarians of the period, his grammar also contains decidedly prescriptive elements, and that his adherence to the force of usage should be qualified.

The book will complement biographies of Joseph Priestley, and it will be interesting for those that want to know more about Priestley himself, or about the development of the English language in the Late Modern period.