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John Wallis (1616-1703): A Reappraisal of his Contribution to the Study of English

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Three centuries after its publication, John Wallis' Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae (1653) is still worth the attention of the readers interested in the study of English. Considered within the context of its day, it appears as a significant contribution to the field, and indeed a work which constitutes a landmark in the history of the study of English. Its author, a remarkable mathematician looked upon as one of the most important precursors of Newton, succeeded in handling facts of the English language (both phonetics and grammar) better than any of his predecessors. His work, which illustrates the empirical approach, is important through the degree of independence attained in it from the Latin model which, at that time, still exerted a strong influence on attempts at describing the European vernaculars. In the advent of comparative linguistics in the 19th century Wallis' grammar fell into disgrace. Even in our time scholars often repeat, with little justification, earlier criticisms of Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae - thus suggesting that Wallis' contribution to the study of English has not always been examined in terms of the advances it represented when it was first published more than three centuries ago. When mapping out the development of linguistics in a historiography of our discipline there are two aspects in which Wallis' grammar of English deserves special mention: when tracing the evolution of articulatory phonetics and when examining the roots of modern structural descriptivism.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 1974

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