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

St. Martin's. May 2015. 320p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781250046123. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466846289. LANG
Linguist Ostler (Slinging Mud; Let's Talk Turkey) provides a historical account of the evolution of grammar thought in America, from the time of the Revolutionary War to the present day. While technical terms are sometimes used, the volume reads more like a history than a grammar book. In neatly arranged sequence, the author covers many who were important in the development of an American way of language, including Noah Webster, Lindley Murray, and William Bentley Fowle. Contemporary thought is shared, including why the book Abraham Lincoln is reported to have walked miles to return may have been a grammar book, and why "bad grammar" was a catchphrase for low class. This is a comprehensive look at all things grammar, from Webster's speaking tours to the uproar over the third edition of his dictionary and from Strunk and White to Grammar Girl. Ostler touches on various heated debates, the vitriol of which will not surprise grammar aficionados, and the rise of linguistics.
VERDICT Fans of Lynne Truss, those who have been known to read dictionaries, or anyone with an interest in language history will find this a worthy addition to the grammar conversation.
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