Network of Grammar Lexemes in 16th- and 17th-Century English Grammar Writing

Most terms that originally referred to fields of study, “have also come to denote the particular field of language itself” (Fenn 2022, 23), blurring the lines between grammar and linguistics. Before the introduction of approaches such as generative grammar (Chomsky 1957) and systemic functional grammar (Halliday 1994) the earliest stages of English grammar writing relied on the categorization of Latin grammar (Algeo 1985). However, in the late 17th century, the English language became more standardized and extended to domains of language use, where the classical languages had previously reigned (Nevalainen 2006, 42). This and other socio-political events invoked a turn towards English being acknowledged as a subject of study in itself (Beal 2004, 102). The scope of grammar has changed from including orthography and prosody, to focusing on morphology and syntax (Walmsley 1999, 2495). This study investigates the diachronic shift in terminology employed for grammatical fields of study and their related concepts. A list of terms known to be used for fields of study that fall under ‘grammar’ is extracted from the Historical Thesaurus of English (Kay et al. 2023). For example, Morphology only emerges as a term in 1869–, and was previously referred to as Etymology c1475– and Wordlore 1840–.

The corpus of 16th- and 17th-century English grammars associated with the HeidelGram project (see and the list of search terms allow us to explore semantic fields and shifts by means of concordance and collocational analysis. We will generate networks of the different structures that occur in grammars during this period enabling us to compare whether there have been notable shifts in what grammatical categories the authors discuss. Our aim is to detect traces of modern theoretical approaches such as Lexical-Functional Grammar (see Bresnan et al. 2016) in the earliest grammars and how they evolved over time.


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