Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Department of English: English Studies
K. Aaron Smith
This thesis investigates the impact of various historical events on the development of the English language and its grammar. Specifically, this project highlights how the ideologies about language held by eighteenth-century grammar-writers have influenced the pedagogical approach of teachers of English, persisting into the twenty-first century. Further, the rationale behind these language ideologies is explored in order to gain important insights into the seemingly prescriptive nature of the majority of grammar texts produced in the eighteenth century and beyond.
The origins of four particular points of grammar and usage that are commonly attacked by teachers, grammarians, and others are examined. The chapter on ain't explores the mystery behind the word's former respectability and its descent into the realm of unacceptability, which led to labels such as barbarism and vulgarism. The chapter on attitudes toward variant pronunciations of ask reveals the surprising etymology of the word while tracing the history of its popular usage over time. The chapters on multiple negation and preposition stranding relate the histories of two of many examples of prescriptive rules appearing in eighteenth-century normative grammars.
Throughout the last three centuries, many theories about linguistics and grammar teaching have been advanced. Despite our current knowledge about the nature and function of language and the realities of language change and variation, however, debates over the teaching of grammar continue. Unsure about the best ways to present material that may appear on standardized tests, teachers may simply continue the cycle begun centuries earlier, and encourage students to memorize particular rules of English grammar. This thesis suggests that an appropriate alternative for today's society may be a more historically and linguistically informed, comprehensive approach to teaching grammar and usage--a pedagogy that emphasizes clear communication instead of the rigid adherence to a set of rules.
Halsey, Robin Elise, "Why do teachers hate ain't? Eighteenth-century ideologies and attitudes in twenty-first-century classrooms" (2013). Theses and Dissertations. 70.