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Democratic eloquence : the fight over popular speech in nineteenth-century America /

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Format: Book
Language: English
Published: W. Morrow, 1990
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Review by Choice Review

Winner of the Allan Nevins Prize, Democratic Eloquence is a distinguished history of rhetoric and popular speech in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cmiel argues that language debates are about more than grammar. The refined literary rhetorical tradition of the 19th century, with its emphasis on gentility, had a two-part thesis that is still in effect: Advising people to speak one way instead of another is a way of telling them to be a certain kind of person and empowers those who speak in the preferred manner while disenfranchising those who do not. The book also traces how the rising tide of the democratization of America clashed with the elitism of the genteel. In addition, Cmiel examines the changing relationship between speaker and perceived audience in political debate. Informative for the scholar, this book should also be enjoyable for the educated general reader. It has excellent footnotes at the ends of chapters, an informative bibliography, and superb index. This book is highly recommended for all libraries. -M. D. Linn, University of Minnesota--Duluth

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

Sure to surprise readers who suppose grammar to be nothing more than a dull collection of rules, Cmiel recounts the great cultural struggle over correct speech in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. After the American Revolution, traditional standards of verbal refinement seemed inappropriate for the new republic. Yet during the next century, the growth of public education reinforced the linguistic decorum eroded by newly democratic politics. As technical jargon acquired prestige and as journalists captured large audiences, heated disputes erupted over new dictionaries, grammars, and translations of the Bible. Not merely a quarrel among pedants, the fight over language created a battlefield for average citizens and prominent leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Horace Greeley, and Theodore Roosevelt. Cmiel tells a fascinating story that removes the veil of familiarity from everyday speech. Notes, selected bibliography; no index.--Bryce Christensen

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Cmiel's topic is the public debate over the proper use of language in the years between the Revolution and 1900. As the U.S. political and social climate changed in the 19th century, so did the way in which words were used in public. A transformation of public rhetoric occurred, from the cultured norm of the era of the Founding Fathers to the extraordinary diversity of styles that we know now. Cmiel points out that this change was marked by a lengthy and often passionate debate over what sort of language was proper in which situations. He examines political oratory, conversational English, newspaper rhetoric, proper grammar, dictionaries, biblical translation, and more. Much of this book is enlightening and entertaining, but it assumes readers have a sound knowledge of American intellectual, cultural, social, and political history. This is not necessarily a shortcoming, but it may limit the book's appeal even among those who enjoy learning how the use of the English language has altered.-- Charles K. Piehl, Mankato State Univ., Minn. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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