Eighteenth-century English

Eighteenth-century English: Ideology and change. Ed. by Raymond Hickey. (Studies in English language.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. xviii, 426. ISBN 9780521887649. $106 (Hb).

Reviewed by Josep Soler-Carbonell, University of Oxford

This edited volume contains invaluable information on eighteenth-century English, with chapters encompassing more formal linguistics and variationist studies together with other contributions looking at the subject of discussion from a more sociocultural point of view. Both perspectives are fruitfully put into dialogue, providing a remarkably positive outcome overall. The volume contains sixteen chapters with excellent contributions by experts from institutions from a variety of countries: Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It is, therefore, a truly international project on an important period in the history of English. The first chapter is preceded by a table of contents, a list of figures, a list of maps, a list of tables, notes on contributors, and a preface. At the end of the book, preceding a list of references, there is a twenty-page timeline for the eighteenth century with a useful summary of the most important historical events affecting the history of English, ranging from the late seventeenth century to the early nineteenth century.

As the subtitle indicates, there are broadly two main strands that are followed in the book: the ideological, on one hand, and the more formal linguistic, on the other. The majority of the chapters encompass both strands within themselves, while some of them are more inclined toward either one or the other. It can be highlighted that the book offers original insights resulting from complementary views on important aspects such as linguistic ideologies, prescriptivism, and norms of correctness and politeness. Other topics covered in this book include the role of women in eighteenth-century grammars (Chs. 3 and 6), regional aspects of eighteenth-century English (Ch. 12 on Scotland and Ch. 13 on Ireland), and the influence of writers, journalists, grammarians, and lexicographers in public debates about language and their role as linguistic authorities.

This book is a rich source of data and information on eighteenth-century English, providing an account of how actual forms of the language coexisted with ideas of it at a very important period in its history. This is why, as the editor himself concludes at the end of his chapter on Irish English, research on this particular period of time is so informative and yields so many relevant insights, not only for English language in Ireland, but also from a more general point of view. Moreover, the book is a good model as well of how to carry out research in historical sociolinguistics, whether from a more ‘socio’ perspective or a more ‘linguistic’ one, and how to reconcile both approaches.