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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.

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Sunday, 22 February 2015

Addition to the post on the non-gendering of infants

Now, this is an interesting addition to the question of the non-gendering of infants in the nineteenth century. Lindley Murray's 'English Grammar' was on its forty-seventh edition in 1834, and easily the most popular textbook on the subject. First published in 1795, during the 1830s it was available in embossed print for the blind, and was translated into Marathi for Indian students.

This is from p151, in the section in Syntax on pronoun agreement :

We hardly consider little children as persons, because that term gives us the idea of reason and reflection: and therefore the application of the personal relative who, in this case, seems to be harsh: "A child who." It is still more improperly applied to animals: "A lake frequented by that fowl whom nature has taught to dip the wing in water." 

This is purely from the point of view of grammar, but it suggests that it is based on the idea that gender is something that is grown into, or acquired with the ability to reason and reflect. Or that adults would take no notice of gender until the powers of reason and reflection were also noticeable. Is it proposing that gender-acquisition is dependent upon the ability to reason and reflect? This is curious given that it was within a world where the statuses of male and female were profoundly different. All rather perplexing, especially given Murray's philanthropic mindset.



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