HeidelGram: A corpus-based network analysis of grammarians‘ references in 19th-century British grammars

Beatrix Busse, Kirsten Gather, Ingo Kleiber


The HeidelGram project, based at the English Department of Heidelberg University, has a twofold aim. It makes an essential contribution to historical grammar studies by compiling, investigating, and making available a representative 10-million-word corpus of historical English grammar books from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and it introduces state-of-the-art network analysis into diachronic corpus linguistics in order to considerably extend the set of concepts and methods applied in historical linguistics and corpus linguistics, and to exemplarily implement and analyse various kinds of networks, such as a network of grammarians, and a network of manifestations of language purism, such as verbal hygiene (Cameron 1995), in long-term diachrony.

In contrast to social network analyses of historical material (e.g. Bergs 2005, Sairio 2009, Fitzmaurice 2010) and to network studies based on fictional texts (e.g. Agarwal et al. 2012, Moretti 2013), the combination of corpus-based diachronic linguistics and network analysis is rather uncharted territory. This pilot project constitutes the first part of a series of diachronic network analyses of historical English grammar books. The present study investigates the relationships between 19th-century grammarians by examining references authors make to other grammars and grammarians. Based on White's notion of 'scholarly networks', references are understood as “record[s] of who has cited whom within a fi xed set of authors” (White 2011: 275) irrespective of their personal acquaintance.

A pilot corpus of 19th-century British grammar books (40 texts, ca. 2.6 mio. words) forms the basis for this kind of network analysis. It contains the most well-known and widely distributed grammars of the 19th century (cf. Leitner 1986, 1991, Linn 2006, Michael 1987, Görlach 1998) as full texts in digitised form. Main criteria for text selection are numbers of editions, distribution, and common use of grammars, as found in book catalogues and secondary literature on grammar writing.

A list of English and foreign grammarians from the 16th to 19th centuries that are nowadays usually considered the most famous and infl uential authors of their time (cf. Dons 2004, Finegan 1998, Görlach 1998, Linn 2006, Schmitter 1996, Tieken-Boon van Ostade 2008, Wolf 2011) comprises the search terms which, applied to the pilot corpus, yield all references made to other grammarians.

The ties between authors will be examined quantitatively, i.e. in terms of the number of references, and qualitatively, i.e. by classifying different kinds of references, e.g. quotation, approval of approaches to grammar, the citing of authorities, and various forms of criticism. Approval, for instance, is “I concur with Baker in considering …” (Crombie (1802) on Baker (1724)), whereas an example of criticism is “Mr. Cobbett has mistaken the real causes of defective arrangement” (Doherty (1841) on Cobbett (1818)). We will show different and changing attitudes towards other grammarians, and discuss substantial implications for the development of the genre.

The network of references will further reveal paradigm shifts in grammar writing, indicating particularly the rise of descriptive grammars after the predominance of prescriptivism and critically reflecting on what is often called 'prescriptive' and 'descriptive'.


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