Alessandra Vicentini

Elocution before the Elocutionary Movement: Exploring Pronunciation and Orality in Early 18th-Century Grammars of English

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This paper surveys a sample corpus of grammars of English published in Britain in the first half of the 18th century. It aims to ascertain to what extent and how issues related to elocution (a synonym for pronunciation but also verbal delivery, an aspect of public speaking) and orality were recorded and described by grammarians before the rise of the elocutionary movement (c. 1760). Findings show that descriptions of pronunciation still hinged on categories and models provided by 16th-century vernacular grammars of Latin. Nevertheless, certain prescriptive indications (a preference for polite accents, references to and criticism/stigmatisation of regional or social variation), the use of teaching methods to contextualise pronunciation (lists of homophones and homographs such as those included in spelling books), and recommendations concerning how to use voice and gesture for effective oral communication foreshadow some of the themes and attitudes typical of late 18th-century elocutionists.


  • early 18th-century grammars of English
  • elocutionary movement
  • pronunciation
  • codification of English
  • prescriptivism


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