The language angle on American history


Founding Grammars: How Early America's War Over Words Shaped Today's Language - Rosemarie Ostler

Once the Revolutionary War ended, the grammar wars began. What sort of English should the citizens of the brand new, still experimental, democracy of the United States speak? Some wanted to make a break with the fusty old English of their former British overlords, while others thought it more seemly and reputable to stick with traditional standards as their young country took its place on the world stage. Both sides agreed on the compelling importance of grammar–many early American homes had only two volumes in their “libraries”–a Bible and a grammar book.


Founding Grammars is a history of the United States and its people as seen through the very interesting angle of language and education. Filled with fascinating facts and lots of interesting characters, the book begins with Noah Webster and his personal quest to update American English, and ends with the heated controversy of 1961 (and beyond) over changes made in third edition of the dictionary that bears Webster’s name–a controversy that still continues today in internet arguments over prescriptive versus descriptive grammar. Other historical figures in the book include Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Davy Crockett, Mark Twain, and publisher Horace Greeley.

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