Article published in:New Approaches to the Study of Later Modern English
[Historiographia Linguistica 33:1/2] 2006
► pp. 57–84
The problem of Joseph Priestley’s (1733–1804) descriptivism
Joseph Priestley’s (1733–1804) Rudiments of English Grammar (1761, second revised edition 1768) has often been interpreted as demonstrating that, unlike most 18th-century grammarians, Priestley took a descriptive approach towards the study of language. This article argues that such a characterisation both of Priestley’s work and that of his contemporaries is misleading. The article offers a reappraisal of Priestley’s Grammar, demonstrating that the idea of linguistic perfectibility is central to his linguistic ideas, but that it has often been overlooked by modern commentators. The two editions of Priestley’s Grammar are assessed, and it is argued that the substantial alterations that he makes for the second edition reveal a grammarian struggling to bring order to the study of the English language.
Published online: 17 July 2006
Cited by 7 other publications
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