Article published in:Linguistics and Literary History: In honour of Sylvia Adamson
Edited by Anita Auer, Victorina González-Díaz, Jane Hodson and Violeta Sotirova
[Linguistic Approaches to Literature 25] 2016
► pp. 151–170
Chapter 8. Jane Austen and the prescriptivists
In contradistinction to interpretations that have positioned Austen as the epitome of a fixed and finished style, in this chapter I position her as an author who was writing at a time of considerable linguistic and stylistic change. In order to do so, I take both a micro- and a macro-linguistic approach to her writing. First, I focus on one specific grammatical feature that is highly salient to some modern readers, that of concordance with either, neither and none. Second, I examine the metalinguistic comments made by characters and narrators in her novels and consider the extent to which these provide evidence for Austen’s own attitudes. Finally, I explore whether or not it is true that Austen is unconcerned with nonstandard forms of language, comparing her practices to those of her contemporaries. Overall I argue that Austen was writing at a time when both language attitudes and language practices were in flux, and that as an author her style was shaped by the changes in progress, while she in turn made use of changing language attitudes for purposes of characterisation.
Published online: 20 October 2016
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