Democratic Eloquence: The Fight Over Popular Speech in Nineteenth-Century America

Ken Cmiel, Author, Kenneth Cmiel, Author William Morrow & Company $24.95 (351p) ISBN 978-0-688-08352-6
Adapted from a dissertation, this scholarly study, or ``prehistory,'' of debates over linguistic usage in America from 1775 to 1900 traces the decline of ``neoclassical traditions of rhetoric'' and the rise of ``populist'' discourse. Cmiel, a historian at the University of Iowa, surveys the refined literary rhetoric employed by the Founding Fathers, as well as the ``middling'' style of populist rhetoric that mixed the cultivated and the vulgar. He describes arguments over political oratory, conversational English, biblical translations, the teaching of grammar and the making of dictionaries. Relating language to mass education, social authority, professional expertise, cultural practice and audiences, he claims forthrightly that language can be either good or bad and that its responsible use is central to the possibility of an antiauthoritarian politics. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/01/1990
Release date: 08/01/1990
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