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How eighteenth-century book reviewers became language guardians

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Abstract

Contributing to studies of standardization in mid eighteenth-century Britain, this paper draws on a corpus of criticism in the new review periodicals in order to explain reviewers’ enthusiastic enforcement of linguistically prescriptive rules. Reflecting consumers’ need for guidance in an expanding market, reviewers often used authors’ language as a seemingly objective index of a book’s quality. However, reviewers’ judgments were sometimes relayed in subjective tones. Reviewers’ satiric perspective in part reflected their dual roles as entertainers and educators, publicly punishing individuals in order to improve standards of writing and reading in a market that was perceived as increasingly socially heterogeneous. Drawing on Bogel’s theory of satire, I also argue that reviewers mocked authors in order to differentiate and elevate themselves.

References

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