“These Gentlemens ill Treatment of our Mother Tongue”: Female Grammarians and the Power of the Vernacular

Taylor Walle, Washington and Lee University
Vol. 36, No. 1 (Spring 2017), 17-43

The female grammarians of the eighteenth century recently have been brought out of the shadows by a small circle of scholars. Unlike their male contemporaries, these female grammarians relied heavily on spoken language, drawing strong connections between women and speech and advocating a pedagogical method that used conversation to instill knowledge. By looking at the status of spoken language in the work of three influential female grammarians—Elizabeth Elstob, Ann Fisher, and Ellenor Fenn—this article redresses a gap in the scholarship on these women and makes a case for conversation as a powerful source of female authority. Moreover, this article challenges the assumption that an interest in the vernacular originates in the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge, shifting this preference for speech to the eighteenth century rather than the Romantic era and to women rather than men.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]