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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: December 2010

14 - Changes and continuities in dialect grammar


English (dialects) in the eighteenth and nineteenth century

From a linguistic point of view, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are very different from the preceding centuries in the history of English. The radical changes the (grammatical) system had been undergoing in the Middle and (though much less so) in the Early Modern English period had largely been completed:

The eighteenth century inherited a largely ordered grammar from Early Modern English.

(Görlach 1999b: 484)

Since relatively few categorical losses or innovations have occurred [from the late eighteenth century onwards], syntactic change has more often been statistical in nature, with a given construction occurring throughout the period and either becoming more or less common generally or in particular registers. The overall, rather elusive effect can seem more a matter of stylistic than syntactic change.

(Denison 1998: 93)

As a result, attention in contemporary publications on the (state of the) English language shifted to new areas, and one area in particular: standardisation in the form of (prescriptive) codification (see for example Görlach 1999b: 462, 482; Rissanen 1999: 211; Beal 2004b: 329). For the first time in the history of the language, both pronouncing dictionaries and grammars were published that were intended for average people. While in early centuries Latin grammar had been the ideal towards which English grammar should orient itself, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries gave way to a more realistic position.

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