9 December – Life after HUGE? Registration now closed

Registration for the symposium is now closed. Should you wish to attend the symposium after all, please leave a comment, and we will see what we can do.

Below, you will find the preliminary programme for the symposium Life after HUGE? which will be held on 9 December at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics. Registration is now open, and you may do so either by leaving a comment to this message or by sending an email to Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade (i.m.tieken@hum.leidenuniv.nl). There will be no fee for the conference, so we hope to see as many of you as are interested in the topic. Please note that coffee, tea and final drinks will be provided. There are several places for lunch in the direct vicinity of the Academy building where the symposium will take place.

Symposium: Life after HUGE?


Rebecca Gowers, “Another One?”

Why I wanted to write Horrible Words. What I thought I was after. Certain ways in which I know the book failed. Other ways in which I hope it modestly succeeded. How some of the responsibility for all this can be laid at the feet of Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade, her colleagues and various of her PhD students. An undertaking never to try anything similar again.

Oliver Kamm, “Prescriptive Grammar: the Quest for Correctness”

Popular discussions of “grammar” are remote from the findings of modern language scientists. Yet pundits, politicians and journalists dominate these debates. Why do they exercise such sway when their message consists of little more than a list of arbitrary “rules” that were untrue even when they were devised? It has to do with antiquated notions of gentility and proper behaviour. Linguistic research is making belated inroads into education but has to constantly contend with popular worries about “incorrectness” in grammar and orthography. It’s a destructive opposition.

Harry Ritchie, “The Fearful Backwardness of the Natives”

Harry Ritchie describes the dreadful results in the English-speaking world of the continuing reign of prescriptivists and the complete ignorance of even the basics of linguistics. Rather than celebrating their linguistic expertise, native speakers  are taught to be ashamed of their English. Rather than celebrating dialect diversity, English-speakers are taught that only standard is correct, and any non-standard usage is inadequate or just wrong. The result is a perniciously effective and never-acknowledged system of linguistic discrimination, based on class in the UK, and class and race in the US.

Robin Straaijer, “Following Fowler: A birdseye view of the most influential English usage guide”

Last year, a book called Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage (Butterfield 2015) was published. Written, or rather compiled, by a lexicographer at the Oxford English Dictionary, it is the fourth edition of Henry Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage (Fowler 1926), or what we have come to know as ‘Fowler’. This latest edition, though still ‘a Fowler’, is understandably rather a different book than its ninety-year old original.

So how did we get there? I will take you through the various editions of the Dictionary of Modern English Usage and show how throughout its publication history it has been shaped by the development of the genre of usage guides, as well as how it influenced this process at the same time – not just in terms of content and methodology, but also in terms its wider place in the world.

I will show how other usage guide writers have been following Fowler: how the original Dictionary of Modern English Usage has changed the genre, since Fowler “is not just one in a long row of usage guides but a special case, and arguably the most influential usage guide throughout the 20th century” (Busse and Schröder 2010: 52) and has become “the generic model for prescriptive usage books” (Peters 2006: 763). Taking Butterfield’s new Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage as a jumping-off point, we will follow Fowler from book to institution to brand. I will illustrate how the content of ‘Fowler’ has changed with the times by showing some examples of usage problems drawn from the HUGE database (Straaijer 2014) and how they compare with Butterfield’s 2015 edition.

In addition, I will talk about one usage guide writer who followed Fowler: the American legal lexicographer Bryan Garner, who seems to have been actively branding himself as the American version of Fowler.


Busse, Ulrich, and Anne Schröder. 2010. “How Fowler Became ‘The Fowler’: An Anatomy of a Success Story.” English Today 26: 45–54. doi:10.1017/S0266078410000088.

Butterfield, Jeremy. 2015. Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fowler, Henry 1926. A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.

Peters, Pam. 2006. “English Usage: Prescription and Description.” In B. Aarts and A. McMahon (eds) The Handbook of English Linguistics (759-780). Oxford: Blackwell.

Straaijer, Robin. 2014. The Hyper Usage Guide of English (HUGE) database. Leiden University. http://huge.ullet.net.

Lyda Fens-de Zeeuw, “The HUGE presence of Lindley Murray”

The grammarian Lindley Murray (1745–1826), by all accounts, was the author of the best-selling grammar book of all times. Not surprisingly, therefore, his work was submitted to severe criticisms by competitive grammarians and authors of usage guides, who may have considered that Murray’s success could negatively influence the sales figures for their own books.

The HUGE database comprises 77 usage guides from 1770 until 2010. I decided to find out in which of those guides Murray is referred to and more specifically, how his views on the dos and don’ts of the English language are dealt with by their authors.

Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade, “The Bridging the Unbridgeable blog: Building an online research network”

The first thing we did when the Bridging the Unbridgeable project began in September 2011 was set up a blog and twitter and Facebook accounts. At the end of the project, between the various members but mostly by me, we’ve written 505 blogposts, produced 48 pages and received 784 comments. We have 374 followers, including Paul Brians, Paul Nance, Jonathon Owen, Tony Parr, Edward Finegan, and many others, and an amazing number of people have filled in our online surveys (including the blog polls repeated from Mittins et al. 1970) and so contributed in a very direct way to our research. The blog has been instrumental in tapping information from the general public about usage and their attitudes to usage, it has brought us in contact with people working in the field, and with usage guide writers who we wished to learn more about, such as Paul Brians, Kay Sayce, Harry Blamires (100th birthday in November) and Janet Whitcut (who died in January this year). It has brought us new friends and colleagues like Anya Luscombe, Tony Parr, Tim Waller and Rebecca Gowers (thanks to Timothy), and even brought old friends and colleagues back on the scene and into research (Adrian Stenton). This paper is first of all meant to thank all those who contributed to the blog and hence to the project, and secondly to report on the ways in which our project increased in visibility worldwide – an important requirement in modern research projects like ours. The blog has also allowed us to see what it is that the general public seeks information on as far as usage questions are concerned, and even that some controversial research topics are far from dead, despite assertions from scholars to the contrary. Blogging for the project proved addictive, but has been indispensable for our work and has proved a tool which we couldn’t have done without.

Carmen Ebner, “Proper English Usage?: Insights into an endeavour to bridge the unbridgeable”

Terribly fascinating, utterly complex and unbelievably entertaining are three ways to describe my experience of studying attitudes towards usage problems in British English. More than four years ago, I embarked on an endeavour to bridge the unbridgeable in nearly uncharted territory. Serving as my only map and guidance, Mittins et al.’s Attitudes to English Usage (1970) offered first insights into the dos and don’ts of usage attitude studies in Great Britain. However, more than four decades have passed and research into language attitudes has advanced tremendously.

While usage attitude studies seem to have found fruitful grounds in the United States, attitude studies focusing on usage problems in British English are few and far between. Why is this the case? What are current attitudes towards usage problems such as the split infinitive and how have they changed compared to the Mittins study? How are usage attitudes best elicited? Questions such as these and many more have driven my project “Proper English Usage: a sociolinguistic investigation of usage attitudes in British English” forward.

The application of a mixed-methods approach has enabled me to obtain a thorough insight into current attitudes towards usage problems such as literally as an intensifier and double negation. In this talk, I will not only present some of my main findings with regard to the sociolinguistic stratification of usage attitudes in England, but I will also share some insights into the terrible fascination, utter complexity and unbelievable entertainment I have encountered so far.


Mittins, W. H., Salu, M., Edminson M., & Coyne, S. (1970). Attitudes to English Usage: An Enquiry by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne Institute of Education English Research Group. London: Oxford University Press.

Morana Lukač, “Grassroots Prescriptivism: An analysis of individual speakers’ efforts in maintaining the standard language ideology”

Language speakers express their attitudes and correct each other’s usage on a daily basis. Conspicuously, however, in their theoretical models of language standardisation, linguists have traditionally marginalised “ordinary” language speakers and their metalinguistic comments as having no actual impact on what it is that constitutes the standard (c.f. Ammon 2015). By contrast, a number of scholars have recently argued for the need to explore the role of language speakers in the process of standardisation (Hundt 2009; Davies and Zigler 2015: 4).  In my own study, embedded in this research agenda, I explored bottom-up prescriptive practices of language speakers, which I dub grassroots prescriptivism.

Metalinguistic discussions involving usage features proved to be a good starting point in tackling this topic. Narrowing down all of the available metalinguistic discussions to a corpus suitable for analysis proved to be challenging, but ultimately the corpus that I created allowed me to explore the following questions:

  • Who are the people engaging in usage discussions?
  • What usage features are speakers particularly bothered with, and do these change over time?
  • Are Britain and the United States indeed two countries divided by different language ideologies as Leslie Milroy claims (2001)?
  • How, if at all, has the internet influenced the way language speakers discuss usage?

In my paper, I will describe how I methodologically approached these questions and how far I got in providing answers to them.


Ammon, Ulrich. (2015). “On the social forces that determine what is standard in a language – with a look at the norms of non-standard language varieties.” Bulletin VALS-ASLA 3, 53–67.

Davies, Winifred V. and Evelyn Ziegler (2015) (eds). Language Planning and Microlinguistics: From Policy to Interaction and Vice Versa. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hundt, Markus (2009). “Normverletzungen und neue Normen.” In M. Knopka and B. Strecker (eds) Deutsche Gramatik – Regeln, Normen, Sprachgebrauch (117–40). Berlin: de Gruyter.

Milroy, Leslie (2001). “Britain and the United States: Two Nations Divided by the Same Language (and Different Language Ideologies).” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 10(1): 56–89.

Viktorija Kostadinova,“Usage guides and language use in American English”

Usage guides are books containing language advice, in which authors make judgements about language variants and prescribe correct language usage. As a consequence, their pronouncements are usually seen by linguists as conservative, sometimes as outright wrong and predominantly as strikingly divorced from the facts of actual usage. One of the goals of this project was to investigate the relationship between language judgements found in usage guides and the way in which language is actually used.

I approached this question by looking at a number of language features in various types of data from American English. In this talk, I will discuss some of the complexities and nuances which this investigation has brought to the fore, drawing on the examples of the intensifying use of literally and the split infinitive. More specifically, I will address the differences in the treatment of these two features found in usage guides and how this treatment has changed over time. I will also discuss the possible reasons why different features are treated differently by usage guide writers. Finally, I will compare the trends in language advice with language usage trends and address the issue of whether and how we can account for possible relationships between usage guides and actual language use.

Proceedings to be published in a special issue of English Today.

Here is also the detailed programme of our symposium.

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3 Responses to 9 December – Life after HUGE? Registration now closed

  1. Alex Reuneker says:

    I’ll be there. Looking forward to it!

  2. Renate Houdijk says:

    I’d like to be there, too!

  3. Carmen Ebner says:

    Reblogged this on Proper English Usage and commented:

    Check out our programme for the “Life after HUGE” Symposium! Registration is now open.

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