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

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  75 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 12th 2015 by St. Martin's Press
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3.71  · 
Rating details
 ·  75 ratings  ·  25 reviews

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Sep 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
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 on ...more
Oct 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is an historical survey of the study of American grammar and lexis and the development of its reference materials.

Author Rosemary Ostler begins and ends with the work and spirit of Noah Webster who felt strongly that American English should be embraced. English as spoken in the US had evolved to a new language, as was fitting for a new country. British grammar texts or dictionaries were no longer relevant. Webster created an American English grammar text which he promoted by lecturing all a
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Solid history. I enjoyed it, although I can easily see that it won't hold interest for a lot of people. Speaking from the linguists' side, there are a few key points here that I really wish the rest of the country would get on board with.
(Hell yes that's sentence-final on purpose.)
Mr. Gottshalk
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I will be honest with everyone out there: if you don’t care about the history of American English and how we have the rules of grammar that we have today, then this book will be mind-numbingly dull. However, as an English and History guy, I found most of this book interesting. Previously, I didn’t have a firm grasp on how we went from King’s English to today’s American English. This is not a book that can be read in a couple of nights. Some parts I glossed over, and in other sections I was total ...more
May 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Super historical exposition of grammar in the USA for people who enjoy reading about this sort of thing.
Feb 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: education
Although I am quite fascinated with language, usage , relationships from one to another, I am less interested in whose dictionary changed grammar more.
Holly McIntyre
Jun 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If your mother, or your 10th grade English teacher, instilled in you the difference between "shall" and "will" and when to use them -- one way in the first person, the opposite in second and third -- you will like this book. Broadly speaking this is a social history of the English language in the United States since the American Revolution. It focuses primarily on the Great Men of Words who shaped how America speaks -- Webster, Strunk, and White along with Jackson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. ...more
Becky F.
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I never thought I would put myself more on the descriptivist side of the grammar wars, but after my first graduate class a year ago, and after reading Ostler's well researched book, I have to agree that while we can document how words are used we cannot dictate how they will be used in the future. When I laugh at the words that were argued over in the past, like "finalize" and "hopefully," I think I can laugh at myself more over my complaints of current language shift. Only dead languages will n ...more
Carrie Ill
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
While not a book for everyone, this is a fascinating look at grammar development in the United States,as well as its effects on history. Ostler takes a semi-balanced approach to the grammar wars that have been plaguing our country since Revolutionary times, although it is pretty clear on which side of the argument she is. I recommend this book to anyone who loves language.
May 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
"Founding Grammars" is a fresh, accessible, historical survey of the "grammar wars" that have unfolded within the United States from the time of independence to the present day.

In Rosemarie Ostler's telling, the grammar wars have involved two groups. On one side are people who believe that there is a fixed, proper standard of English to which people should aspire and schools should teach. On the other side are people who believe that standard (US) English should emerge from how people actually s
Kelly Ann
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is not the type of book that you sit and read for long stretches of time (hence it taking me almost six months to finish), but I find grammar fascinating and this book is a great record of how the grammar debate has changed throughout time.
Jul 31, 2015 rated it really liked it

Today's post is on Founding Grammars: How Early America's War over Words Shaped Today's Language by Rosemarie Ostler. It is 309 pages long including notes and it published by St. Martin's Press. The cover is blue with a quill and the constitution on it. The intended reader is someone interested in history and grammar. There is no language, no sex, and no violence in this book. There Be Spoilers Ahead.

From the dust jacket- Who decided not to split infinitives? With whom should we take issue if in
Gary Geiger
Jul 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
The title is awful, but this is an interesting book. It reminds me of Shady Characters, but its focus is more limited. It looks at American history thorough the lens of American grammar and word usage. The cast of characters include Noah Webster, Davy Crockett, Horace Greeley, and E.B. White as well as a a cast of folks who I am unfamiliar with as well as presidents Jackson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt.

I'm not a grammar stickler, but I do like to know the rules. Even moreso, I like to know why
Barney Beins
Apr 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book does a great job describing the grammar wars that have raged since America was founded. People have really gotten worked up over the years, starting with Noah Webster and continuing to today. It's pretty clear that there were a lot of class issues, with upper class, educated people speaking properly and being moral for doing so.

In the argument over descriptive versus prescriptive linguistics, Sydney Harris wrote, "Our attitude toward language merely reflects our attitude toward more b
From Noah Webster to Strunk and White, this book explores the many battles over structural and descriptive linguistics. Language, and most particularly grammar, has often been used as a way to gatekeep, mark class distinctions, and even disenfranchise American citizens. Modern readers might be interested to learn that a grammar book by Lindley Murray denounced they as a singular pronoun in 1794, meaning it was in use long before the search for gender neutral pronouns began. A lot of these little ...more
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Oct 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
The grammar police have been with us since pre-Revolutionary times. Probably before that as well, but Rosemarie Ostler is only concerned in Founding Grammars with grammar police in America. The story of Noah Webster, then Strunk & White and others was good, but I especially enjoyed the story of Webster's Third International Dictionary, released in 1961 to general hysteria, apparently. People were outraged that "ain't" and "finalize" were included as well as a host of other substandard words. ...more
Aug 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: miscellaneous
This is a fascinating look at how English grammar rules were created. Guess what! In many cases it was purely arbitrary. It details the many grammar books that were influential in their own period including the back story to the venerated Strunk and White. Battles over such radical items as split infinitive and words like finalize, jeopardize, donor are analyzed. How many of you knew to jeopard is a verb? Bottom line! If you teach grammar or writing or find grammar interesting, you will enjoy th ...more
Mar 18, 2015 added it
Liked this one a lot! If you like to read grammar books (a la Eats, Shoots and Leaves) then you will find this intriguing. It's basically a history of grammar thought. I love that these things change, and that what comes around goes around. Also loved the personal history of Noah Webster. Here in my office sits my Webster's Unabridged on its own swivel stand, and I'm not too proud to say yes, I read dictionaries. So if that sounds like you, and you like history, check this out.
Mary Brodd
Takeaways - the more things change the more things stay the same - people have been bitching about "they" as a second-person singular pronoun since at least the 18th century. Who knew. Debate over dictionaries/grammar books being prescriptive vs. descriptive also nothing new. Title of this book somewhat deceptive as it continues into 20th-century dictionary debates, but still a bit of a fun read if the subject matter is of interest.
Jul 29, 2016 rated it liked it
I'm throwing this back as it's not what I was really hoping for. It's quite good if you're interested in the actual history of language "rules" in this country. I finished the Webster chapter and realized that I didn't really care about any of the rest of the people--nor did I really care about Webster that much!--and gave up. :)
Nina Hoppe
Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I was incredible fascinated by the book. I picked it up from the library thinking it would put me to sleep and never be finished.
I finished it and then started reading it aloud to my 12 and 11 year old. It has gone by much slower as we have had to clarify and define words and ideas through out the book.
Fairly technical with some history.
Robyn Wilson
Mar 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
All English teachers should read this book. It really highlights where our "rules" come from and how the language changes.
Adrian Sobers
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Mar 23, 2019
Michael Miller
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Aug 31, 2015
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Jeanne Ferris
rated it it was ok
Sep 03, 2015
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Linguist and freelance writer Rosemarie Ostler loves exploring the rich record of American language use. Her latest book, Splendiferous Speech, tells the story of how early Americans created their own brand of English.

Rosemarie has also written language-related articles for magazines including The Saturday Evening Post, American History, Atlas Obscura, and Christian Science Monitor.

Rosemarie live