Political perspectives on linguistic innovation in independent America
In this study, I focus the large subject of Late Modern English in newly independent America through the lens of the politician and scholar Thomas Jefferson. Drawing on evidence relating to the several libraries he assembled serially over his lifetime, especially on catalogues and correspondence, I focus particularly on lexis and on lexicography – especially, how American neologisms and a new American dictionary might relate both to linguistic tradition in Britain and to political affiliations in America. The grammars and dictionaries catalogued in Jefferson’s library hint at this politician’s lifelong interest in English usage. The correspondence connected with his library (including the spelling of his letters) demonstrates in more detail that Jefferson was interested in American neologisms and in non-standard spelling. In brief, Jefferson’s republican, anti-federalist political principles are consistent with his linguistic opinions, especially with his resistance to imposed reform despite his enthusiasm for lexical and orthographical innovation. In turn, these epistolary debates remind us of the linguistic consequences of political divisions within the new republic.