Massimo Sturiale University of Catania “The Social Construction of Standard (Spoken) English: Eighteenth-Century Orthoepists as a ‘Discourse Community’.”


 In the pursuit of a standard form of spoken English, the second half of the eighteenthcentury was characterised by a proliferation of pronouncing dictionaries and manuals and – most importantly – by the publication of the ‘authoritative’ works by Thomas Sheridan (1780) and John Walker (1791). Pronouncing dictionaries offer important evidence of language change and of the fact that at this time provincial and vulgar pronunciations started to be marginalized and stigmatized (Beal 2004b and 2010).
By analysing the prefatory material of eighteenth-century pronouncing dictionaries, I aim to demonstrate how lexicographers and orthoepists, as “a discourse community” (Watts 1999), made an outstanding contribution to the social construction of the Standard ideology and its further reinforcement. Furthermore, reviews and advertisements of the aforementioned publications appeared in the daily press and periodicals; these, together with other news articles, will also be analysed to shed further light on the ‘debate’ which characterized the rise, in Mugglestone’s words (2003), of “accent as social symbol”.

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