The Treatment of the Subjunctive in Eighteenth-century Grammars of English



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The Treatment of the Subjunctive in Eighteenth-century Grammars of English
Anita Auer*



  1. Introduction

It is generally agreed that the inflectional subjunctive experienced a steady decline in the history of English. However, some historical linguists see a less straightforward process, in which the trajectory of decline was sporadically reversed. Strang attributes these reversals to the “tendency to hypercorrection in 18c and later teachers and writers”.1 Görlach agrees that subjunctive forms became “slightly more frequent in the 18th century” and that “their survival was partly supported by the acceptance of Latin-based rules of correctness”.2 Turner, on the other hand, claims that the subjunctive “continued to lose ground throughout the 17th and 18th centuries […] in spite of the predictable efforts by some of the early English grammarians to arrest the decline”3 while Traugott denies the existence of a clear consensus among early prescriptivists: “It is interesting to see how varied opinions on the subjunctive were in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries”.4


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* Anita Auer’s research interests include the diachronic development of the subjunctive mood in English and (Austrian) German. She says “I am concerned with the socio-cultural aspects of variation and change in the use of the subjunctive mood in the eighteenth century, i.e. the main period in which standardisation took place in England and Austria. In my work I do not only focus on actual language use but also on what 'prescriptive' grammarians had to say about the mood and on the extent to which they influenced the development of the subjunctive in English and (Austrian) German.” Email: a.auer@stud.man.ac.uk.

This disagreement amongst present-day scholars suggests there is room for further investigation into the status of the subjunctive in both the grammar and the grammar books of the eighteenth century. Although confident claims have been made on both sides of the argument, they have been supported by very little empirical work. This is what my own research aims to supply.

Any study of the subjunctive mood in the eighteenth century needs to address the question: did eighteenth-century prescriptive grammarians influence the way the subjunctive was used? And this in turn raises the question: how did eighteenth-century grammarians conceptualise and describe the subjunctive? In my research project I am concerned with both questions. However, in this paper I will only deal with the second. I discuss the question of the grammarians’ influence on the development of the language extensively elsewhere.5




  1. Systems of Moods in Eighteenth-century Grammars

The first step in an investigation of descriptions of the subjunctive in eighteenth-century grammars is to find out if it was recognised as a distinct mood. Table 1 provides a chronological overview of the system of moods presented in 25 grammars of the period. The structure of the table follows Ian Michael’s analysis of the systems of moods found in grammars published between 1586 and 1801.6 Since Michael was primarily concerned with the typology of the mood system (he ascertained “at the very least” 24 different systems in the period) he surveys a large number of grammars – an impressive 258 – and treats them anonymously. As my research project is concerned with the influence of individual grammarians on the history of the inflectional subjunctive, I will take a smaller group and examine their conceptualisation of the subjunctive in more detail. Table 1 summarises the mood systems found in 25 grammars, selected to cover the chronological sweep of the eighteenth century and to represent both its pedagogic and philosophical traditions. They illustrate a cross-section of the systems that Michael found in his study.

Table 1. Systems of Moods.


Grammarian
Year



















Greenwood

1711



















Brightland & Gildon

1711

Indicative

Imperative




Subjunctive







Maittaire

1712

Indicative

(Interrogative)

(Responsive)

Imperative


Infinitive









Potential

(Subjunctive)

(Conjunctive)

(Optative)

(Dubitative)


Dilworth

1740 [131751]

Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive

Subjunctive

Optative

Potential

Kirkby

1746

Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive







Potential

Martin

1748

Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive

Subjunctive




Potential

Fisher

1750 [51757]



















Harris

1751 [41786]

Indicative or

Declarative



Requisitive

a) Imperative

b) Precative

or Optative



Infinitive

Subjunctive

Interrogative

Potential

Johnson

1755

Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive

Conjunctive




Potential

Bayly

1756

[51758]



Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive

Subjunctive

(Optative)









Ash

Institutes


1760 [1796]

Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive







Potential

(Subjunctive)



Priestley

1761



















White

1761

Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive

Subjunctive

Compulsive

Potential







Elective

Determinate

Obligative

Participles







Buchanan

1762

Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive

Subjunctive







Lowth

1762

Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive

Subjunctive

Participles




Ward

1767

Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive

Subjunctive




Potential

Baker

1770



















Fenning

1771



















Ash

Dictionary


1775

Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive







Potential

Devis

1775

[31777]



Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive

Subjunctive




Potential

Campbell

1776

Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive

Subjunctive

Interrogative

Optative

Shaw

1778

[41793]



Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive

Subjunctive




Potential

Pickbourn

1789

Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive

?Subjunctive?







Murray

1795

Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive

Subjunctive




Potential

Rhodes

1795

Indicative

Imperative

Infinitive

Subjunctive






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