Article published in:Transatlantic Perspectives on Late Modern English
Edited by Marina Dossena
[Advances in Historical Sociolinguistics 4] 2015
► pp. 37–53
Political perspectives on linguistic innovation in independent America
Learning from the libraries of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
In this study, I focus the large subject of Late Modern English in newly independent America through the lens of the politician and scholar Thomas Jefferson. Drawing on evidence relating to the several libraries he assembled serially over his lifetime, especially on catalogues and correspondence, I focus particularly on lexis and on lexicography – especially, how American neologisms and a new American dictionary might relate both to linguistic tradition in Britain and to political affiliations in America. The grammars and dictionaries catalogued in Jefferson’s library hint at this politician’s lifelong interest in English usage. The correspondence connected with his library (including the spelling of his letters) demonstrates in more detail that Jefferson was interested in American neologisms and in non-standard spelling. In brief, Jefferson’s republican, anti-federalist political principles are consistent with his linguistic opinions, especially with his resistance to imposed reform despite his enthusiasm for lexical and orthographical innovation. In turn, these epistolary debates remind us of the linguistic consequences of political divisions within the new republic.
Published online: 12 February 2015
Gilreath, James & Douglas L. Wilson
2008 The papers of Thomas Jefferson digital edition, Barbara B. Oberg & J. Jefferson Looney (eds.). Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda. http://rotunda.upress.virginia.edu.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/founders/TSJN.html (accessed 26 February 2014).
2013 Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 15 August 1820. Founders Online. National Archives. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-1458, ver. 2014-05-09 (accessed 3 July 2014)
2013 Letter from Thomas Jefferson to William S. Cardell 27 January 1821 Founders Online. National Archives. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/ Jefferson/98-01-02-1795, ver. 2014-05-09 (accessed 3 July 2014)
Monthly Anthology, and Boston Review
1809 Review of A compendious dictionary of the English language, by Noah Webster. 7. 246–264. Sabin Americana 1500–1926. http://galenet.galegroup.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/servlet/Sabin?af=RN&ae= CY3805918720&srchtp=a&ste=14 (accessed 26 February 2014).
OED, The Oxford English dictionary
www.oed.com (accessed 26 February 2014).
1816 A vocabulary, or, collection of words and phrases, which have been supposed to be peculiar to the United States of America. Boston, 1816. Sabin Americana 1500–1926 . http://galenet.galegroup.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/servlet/Sabin?af=RN&ae=CY104267499&srchtp=a&ste=14 (accessed 3 July 2014).
Poor, Nathaniel P
1944  Catalogue. President Jefferson’s library. A catalogue of the extensive and valuable library of the late President Jefferson, (copied from the original MS., in his hand-writing, as arranged by himself). Washington: printed by Gales and Seaton. Facsimile reprint: Ypsilanti, MI: University Lithoprinters.
Sabin Americana, 1500–1926
2014 Gale Cengage Learning. http://galenet.galegroup.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/servlet/Sabin?locID=utoronto_main (accessed 26 February 2014).
Sowerby, E. Millicent
(ed.) 1952–1959 Catalogue of the library of Thomas Jefferson; compiled with annotations by E. Millicent Sowerby. vol. 5. Washington: The Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/rr/rarebook/coll/130.html (accessed 26 February 2014).
American national biography online
. Revised February 2000 Oxford University Press for American Council of Learned Societies. http://www.anb.org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/ articles/index.html (accessed 26 February 2014).
Bailey, Richard W
Burkett, Eva Mae
Dictionary of American biography
1936 New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. In Biography in Context. Gale Cengage Learning. http://ic.galegroup.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/ic/bic1/home (accessed 26 February 2014).
Hayes, Kevin J
Heath, Shirley Brice
Onuf, Peter S
Peterson, Merrill D