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John Hart and the Beginning of English Linguistics in Tudor England

John Hart (c. 1501–1574) is a remarkable figure in the history of British linguistic thought. Along with Thomas Smith (1513–1577), William Bullokar (c. 1531–1609), and Richard Mulcaster (1531/2–1611), he is one of the most important orthographers in the sixteenth century when English spelling questions were becoming central to discussions of the vernacular. The sixteenth century saw the publication of the first group of books dedicated to systematic study of the English language which began with the movement of orthographic reform. In the history of British linguistics, Hart’s An Orthographie (1569) has a special status: it is the first treatise not only focusing on the study of the English language but also published in English (rather than Latin which was the academic lingua franca in Western Europe during that period). His three linguistic writings are outstanding in terms of both depth and breadth. To be specific, as one of the seminal orthographers of the Tudor period, he has detailed description of the English sounds and thus is widely recognised as the first phonetician of the English language in England. Moreover, his work is much richer than merely technical analysis of the language—his ideas about language are informed by the theory and practice of Tudor politics, which can be better understood by bringing together the technical, ideological, and rhetorical dimensions in one discussion.

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Posted in 16th century, Article, Linguistics

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