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Language Myths and the History of English$
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Richard J. Watts

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195327601

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195327601.001.0001

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Reinterpreting Swift's A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue

Reinterpreting Swift's A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue

Challenging an embryonic modern myth

Chapter:
(p.157) Chapter 7 Reinterpreting Swift's A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue
Source:
Language Myths and the History of English
Author(s):

Richard J. Watts (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195327601.003.0007

Swift's Proposal is generally accepted by most scholars to represent a genuine complaint, addressed to the Earl of Oxford, about declining standards of English and the need to introduce a language academy. However, this analysis of the Proposal ignores the fact that Swift was one of the greatest satirists in the English language, and it ignores the wider sociocultural and sociopolitical framework in which the text was published. A detailed reading of the Proposal is presented to place it alongside other satirical texts. The interpretation challenges canonical readings of the Proposal and opens it up for more interesting interpretative possibilities. The chapter argues that commentators should consider this text and other texts within the complaint tradition more carefully to focus on the language myths in assessing their sociohistorical significance. The danger of not doing so is the construction of another modern myth guiding the discourse of modern sociohistorical linguistics.

Keywords:   complaint tradition, satire, language myths, sociohistorical linguistics, modern myth

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