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Alice Pugh. The Emergence of Prescriptive Attitudes

 

 Looking for the Model

 

James II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, Duke of Normandy

 

The situation in England by the late 1600’s was one of disarray politically and socially. Throughout the 1500’s and 1600’s lots had happened to create ‘anarchy’ and ‘chaos’ (Crystal 2005:366). Those wanting to give the English language direction and a sense of tradition maybe felt that they could indirectly achieve this for the country as a whole. The reformation on English religious practice and the dissolution of the monasteries from 1536 to 1539, due to Henry VIII, would have caused much anguish for a whole society that believed in God and their routine practices within the church. The Gunpowder Plot in 1605 was a great anarchist statement, then there were two civil wars in 1642-6 and 1648-51 and during this time in 1649 King Charles II was executed.  The fundamental parts of England’s Church and Monarchy had broken down therefore the tradition and accepted behaviours of society had too shown signs of diminishing. The Irish and Scottish rebellions in 1649-1650 saw more unsettled and there were three Dutch wars between 1652 and 1674.  In 1660 came the restoration of Charles II and 1688 the revolution which saw James II overthrown, to be replaced by a different monarch and parliamentary rule.

It can be said that a connection was made between ‘unsociable behaviour, the breakdown of society, and language.’ (Crystal 2005:367) Those who formed the committee would have felt powerless about the situations they could not control; as men of the literary world they would have felt a sense of power in their specialised field. This feeling would have caused them to pursue the reformation of their idea of the ‘best’ English.     

The Royal Society’s Committee had differing ideas on what to base their prescriptive plans and potential academy on.  One potential source to base their rules of the academy upon was the speech of the courts. The ‘King’s English’ a well known phrase was an option that had widespread understanding and national credibility (Crystal 2005:379). The other course of action on their quest for ‘perfect’ English was to use the Bible as a model to work from.  This was a popular idea from Swift as he realised the bible was widely read by ‘common’ people. However due to the constant changes in the church from Catholicism to the Church of England, influences from Puritans and other religions there were varying translations and terminology.  The other main models thought of were Dictionaries, John Kersey's New English Dictionary 1702 contained 28,000 words and Nathaniel Bailey's Universal Etymological English Dictionary 1721 contained 60,000 words (Crystal 2005:380).  The idea of using dictionaries as a model for the academy was the most well thought of within the society.  However dictionaries were just not good enough the illustrations were vague.  Samuel Johnson pursued the quest for a fixed language through the dictionary.  Things that needed to be sorted within the language included structure, spelling, grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary, Johnsons plan was to create a dictionary that met these demands. 

The society showed a tendency to favour and conform to the structures and spellings of Latin. I mentioned earlier the competition felt and inadequacy to the Romance languages, a natural way of conquering this would have been to catch up with the prestige and take on similar rules.  For example when looking at some prescriptive rules they include Sentence Final preposition; the society would have suggested "With whom did you sit?" the same way Romance languages would phrase it rather than "Who did you sit with?". The prescriptive rules also followed the Latin way of using split infinitives. (Colin Courses n.d.)

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THE EMERGENCE OF PRESCRIPTIVE ATTITUDES

  The Factor of Competition

  Yearning for Linguistic Guidance

  Looking for the Model

  Fighting a Loosing Battle?

  References and Bibliography

BEST ESSAYS

  The Language of the Internet

  English Reasserts Its Status

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