The importance of prescriptivism in the development of “schemes for respelling” in 18th century pronouncing dictionaries

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This paper will give an overview of the evolution of phonic descriptions in 18th century English pronouncing dictionaries, and of the role of prescriptivism within this process. The prescriptive attitudes of orthoepists during this period led them to adopt increasingly detailed and precise transcription systems, and this same prescriptivism, informed by graphocentrism, influenced these systems as well as the individual transcriptions. Our aim is to establish that the prescriptive tendencies that hardened in 18th century England (during the period which saw the rise of what would come to be known as Received Pronunciation) served as a catalyst for a more systematic approach to describing spoken language and graphophonemic conventions. This is linked to prescriptivism as a tool for social demarcation, and a pedagogical necessity, but also as the hallmark of the traditional, accretive approach to knowledge, of which graphocentric bias is one example.


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