Research Programs: Summer Stipends

Period of Performance

6/1/2014 - 7/31/2014

Funding Totals

$6,000.00 (approved)
$6,000.00 (awarded)

Figures of Speech: Six Histories of Language & Identity in the Age of Revolutions

FAIN: FT-61495-14

Timothy Blum Cassedy
Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX 75205-1902)

"Language makes the difference between man and man," wrote a bookseller in Philadelphia in 1806. He was far from the only one who thought so. For Britons and Americans at the turn of the nineteenth century, every aspect of pronunciation, vocabulary, and spelling came to seem like a potential basis for determining who was the same and who was different, who belonged and who should be excluded, who was civilized and who was savage. Language, I argue, served as a primary category of identity, paving the way for the much later concept of "culture." LANGUAGE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE is a story about this forgotten episode in the cultural history of linguistic ideas, drawing on discussions of language in newspapers, novels, spelling books, and diaries to show how Britons and Americans used linguistic analysis to make sense of the human diversity within the English-speaking world as well as far beyond it.

Associated Products

Figures of Speech: Six Histories of Language and Identity in the Age of Revolutions (Book)
Title: Figures of Speech: Six Histories of Language and Identity in the Age of Revolutions
Author: Tim Cassedy
Abstract: Tim Cassedy’s fascinating study examines the role that language played at the turn of the nineteenth century as a marker of one’s identity. During this time of revolution (U.S., French, and Haitian) and globalization, language served as a way to categorize people within a world that appeared more diverse than ever. Linguistic differences, especially among English-speakers, seemed to validate the emerging national, racial, local, and regional identity categories that took shape in this new world order. Focusing on six eccentric characters of the time—from the woman known as “Princess Caraboo” to wordsmith Noah Webster—Cassedy shows how each put language at the center of their identities and lived out the possibilities of their era’s linguistic ideas. The result is a highly entertaining and equally informative look at how perceptions about who spoke what language—and how they spoke it—determined the shape of communities in the British American colonies and beyond. This engagingly written story is sure to appeal to historians of literature, culture, and communication; to linguists and book historians; and to general readers interested in how ideas about English developed in the early United States and throughout the English-speaking world.
Year: 2018
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Publisher's description
Publisher: University of Iowa Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9781609386122
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes


26th Annual Prize for a First Book
Date: 12/4/2019
Organization: Modern Language Association
Abstract: The MLA Prize for a First Book was established in 1993. It is awarded annually for the first book-length publication of a member of the association that is a literary or linguistic study, a critical edition of an important work, or a critical biography.