Chapter 8. Jane Austen and the prescriptivists

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In contradistinction to interpretations that have positioned Austen as theepitome of a fixed and finished style, in this chapter I position her as an authorwho was writing at a time of considerable linguistic and stylistic change. Inorder to do so, I take both a micro- and a macro-linguistic approach to herwriting. First, I focus on one specific grammatical feature that is highly salientto some modern readers, that of concordance with either, neither and none.Second, I examine the metalinguistic comments made by characters and narratorsin her novels and consider the extent to which these provide evidence forAusten’s own attitudes. Finally, I explore whether or not it is true that Austen isunconcerned with nonstandard forms of language, comparing her practices tothose of her contemporaries. Overall I argue that Austen was writing at a timewhen both language attitudes and language practices were in flux, and that as anauthor her style was shaped by the changes in progress, while she in turn madeuse of changing language attitudes for purposes of characterisation.


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