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Jonathan Swift And the idea for an English language academy.

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1 Jonathan Swift And the idea for an English language academy

2 Biography * November 30th 1667 in Dublin, Ireland † 19. October 1745 in Dublin, Ireland 1682 entered the University of Dublin and later the University of Oxford 1695 became a priest of the Anglican Church “A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue" (1712) “Gulliver's Travels” (1726) “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of poor People in Ireland from being a Burden to their Parents or Country, and for making them beneficial to the Public” (1729)

3 The Spirit of his Time Characteristics of the 18 th century philosophy: „…strong sense of order and …regulation…“ „…the desire for system and regularity…“ Language Latin was seen as the role model language The grammar of the English language became an individual field of study  „…it was the desire of the 18 th century to give the English language a polished, rational and permanent form.“

4 His Vision „I see no absolute necessity why any language should be perpetually changing;…“ „…and if it were once refined to a certain standard, perhaps there might be ways found out to fix it forever; or at least till we are invaded and made a conquest by some other state;…“

5 His Vision Remedying what he named the „defects“ of the „vulgar language“: - too many monosyllables → clippings: mob (mobile) - verb endings : clipp‘d - newly coined words (fashion words) The fixing and ascertaining of the English language after the „cleansing process“ was finished

6 Ascertain? Why? Swift‘s reasons: English would not be regarded as barbarous anymore (compared to Latin) Fear of losing his status of immortality as a writer „How then shall any man…be able to undertake such work with spirit and cheerfulness, when he considers that he will be read with pleasure but a very few years and in an age or two shall hardly be understood without an interpreter?...This is like employing an excellent statuary to work upon mouldering stone.“

7 Ascertain? How? Put the „cleansed“ language into laws. Language after that may be extended but not under change of what had previously been named valid.

8 Ascertain? Who? Compilation of the academy - „…a free judicious choice should be made of such persons, as are generally allowed to be best qualified for such a work, without any regard to quality, party or posession.“ Tasks of the academy - „Fix the language on rule“ - Work with the example of the French, to avoid their mistakes

9 Role Models France and Italy Italy: “Accademia della Crusca” founded in 1582 Achievements - Dictionary published 1612 France: “L’académie Francaise” founded in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu Achievements - Dictionary published 1694 (1 st ed.)

10 Examples for successful language ascertainment…? Authorised Version of the Bible (1611) Book of Common Prayer (1662) Logical error: standard texts vs. standardized language

11 Supporters and Opponents Earlier Supporters of the idea of an academy: - Royal Society/John Dryden Daniel Defoe 1697 Opponent: Sir John Oldmixon - against Swift as a person rather than against the idea of an academy - more out of political motives

12 Letter to the Lord High Treasurer 22 nd Feb 1712 Money (e.g. „…the expense for a large room, where ‘the society‘ should meet.“) Royal Support To assure the Treasurer‘s instruction and protection for „the society“

13 Letter to the Lord High Treasurer „ There is no example in history of any minister who in so short a time hath performed so many great things and overcome many great difficulties.“ „…I must be so plain as to tell Your Lordship that if You will not take some care to settle our language…I cannot promise that Your memory shall be preserved above a hundred years further than by imperfect transition.“ „However, I must venture to affirm, that if Genius and Learning be not encouraged under Your Lordship‘s administration, You are the most inexcusable person alive.“

14 Success…or not! Measures for the foundation of an academy had already been taken by the Lord High Treasurer Mainly due to Queen Anne‘s death (1714) the academy never came to be Further attempts of refining the language were tried directly through the public

15 Sources „ A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue”, Jonathan Swift, 1712, London A.C. Baugh/ T. Cable: „The Appeal to Authority“ in „A History of the English Language“, 3rd ed. 1983, London u.a., Rutledge & Kegan Paul


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