LINGUIST List 27.1498

Thu Mar 31 2016

Review: Historical Ling; Socioling; Syntax: Yáñez-Bouza (2014)

Editor for this issue: Sara Couture <>

Date: 08-Dec-2015
From: Carmen Ebner <>
Subject: Grammar, Rhetoric and Usage in English
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Book announced at

AUTHOR: Nuria Yáñez-Bouza
TITLE: Grammar, Rhetoric and Usage in English
SUBTITLE: Preposition Placement 1500–1900
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2014

REVIEWER: Carmen Ebner, Leiden University Centre for Linguistics

Reviews Editor: Robert Arthur Cote


The book “Grammar, Rhetoric and Usage in English: Preposition Placement 1500–1900” by Yáñez-Bouza. (2015) represents a detailed and careful analysis of preposition placement in the early Modern English (EModE) and late Modern English (LModE) periods. Yáñez-Bouza conducts a contrastive analysis of preposition stranding (The house which I live in) and pied-piping (The house in which I live) but focusses on the stigmatisation and use of the former by a thorough large-scale investigation of precept and usage data. An interesting aspect of this book, which consists of six chapters and a conclusion, is the inclusion and discussion of rhetoric treaties and their role in the prescriptive approach against preposition stranding.

In the Introduction, Yáñez-Bouza provides the necessary background for her analysis of preposition placement by discussing the different contexts in which preposition stranding and pied piping can occur as well as an overview of previous syntactic variation studies in English focusing on this linguistic feature. Despite the existing body of literature dealing with preposition placement, the author highlights the lack of a “corpus-based approach within the framework of normative linguistics and linguistic historiography” (9) which she hopes to contribute to with her study. She further positions her study by describing the normative linguistic framework and the standardisation process drawing on Milroy and Milroy (2012: 19–22). The underlying research questions driving the study are clearly stated in the introduction as is the author’s main aim for this study, which is to reassess “the effect and effectiveness of the normative tradition on the history of P-stranding, with a special focus on – thought not limited to – eighteenth century precept works” (19–20).

Chapter 2, “Methodology”, contains a description of the study’s methodology for which Yáñez-Bouza compiled two corpora: a precept data corpus and a usage data corpus. Since a focus is placed on the eighteenth century, the so-called “age of prescriptivism” (154), the author did not only identify grammar books published in this period but also identified relevant grammars included in works such as dictionaries and letter-writing manuals. For the usage corpus, a selection of data was made from two diachronic English corpora – the Helsinki Corpus (HC) and A Representative Corpus of Historical English Registers (ARCHER) – to incorporate various different registers such as diaries, sermons, and legal texts to enable an analysis of register variation. Furthermore, this chapter contains a detailed analysis of the linguistic variation of preposition stranding and pied-piping by providing a classification of types of phrase as well as “four main syntactic-semantic criteria” including “[o]bligatoriness” and “[a]rgumenthood/thematic role” of the prepositional phrase (40–41).

In Chapter 3, “Eighteenth-century precept”, Yáñez-Bouza tackles a detailed analysis of attitudes expressed towards preposition stranding in the eighteenth-century precept data corpus. By including both a qualitative and quantitative analysis of how many authors published how many works on this topic containing how many comments towards preposition stranding, a clearer picture of the development of proscriptive and prescriptive strictures is gained. Yáñez-Bouza classified her collected precept data into four categories: containing no comments about preposition stranding, a neutral comment, advocating preposition stranding, or criticising it. Furthermore, the labels used in connection with comments on preposition stranding were examined by drawing on Sundby et al.’s (1991) A Dictionary of English Normative Grammar 1700–1800 (DENG). This chapter also includes a section on plagiarism of quotations in the eighteenth century, which, Yáñez-Bouza argues, hints at the existence of a discourse community of grammar writers.

Chapter 4, “Usage in Early and Late Modern English”, contains a discussion of preposition stranding in the usage corpus. After providing an overview of the different types of clauses found in the corpus, the author conducts a fine-grained diachronic analysis of syntactic and register variation and provides numerous examples from her usage corpus. Her findings show an interesting change in trends concerning the use of preposition stranding. While preposition stranding was already frequently used by 1500 (106), the author was able to show a decrease in frequency in the late eighteenth century and concludes that “the stigmatisation of P-stranding cannot have originated in the late eighteenth century, because of the lack of a time gap between precept and usage” (151). This is further discussed in Chapter 5.

Chapter 5, “Grammar, rhetoric and style”, constitutes the main part of this book. Yáñez-Bouza succeeded in identifying “a transition period” (1700–1749) which is essential in the stigmatisation development of preposition stranding and which she argues is a period of latent awareness (153–154). The EModE period and grammars published in this period are discussed to identify the beginning of preposition stranding stigmatisation. Since early English grammars relied heavily on Latin grammars, the role of Latin syntax and grammatical correctness is discussed by the author by drawing on John Dryden and the collected precept data.

In Chapter 6, “Latent awareness”, Yáñez-Bouza continues to discuss the role of John Dryden and other prominent figures during the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, the so-called period of latent awareness, in which she argues “language norms were ‘hibernating’” and “yet to be strengthened as ‘more definite awareness’ as the century progressed” (284). Dryden’s influence on figures such as Joseph Addison and Elizabeth Montagu is discussed in more detail.

The conclusion highlights the main points of Yáñez-Bouza’s study and answers her research questions stated in the introduction. She also manages to bridge the findings of her study by briefly discussing contemporary attitudes towards preposition stranding which is still negatively viewed in some contexts.


Yáñez-Bouza’s “Grammar, Rhetoric and Usage” is a significant contribution to the socio-historical study of prescriptivism and adds an interesting perspective to the study of preposition stranding by including rhetoric treaties. One of the merits of this book is the author’s ability to show the interconnectivity of grammar works and rhetoric treaties. Thus, she managed to highlight the importance of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries for the stigmatisation of preposition stranding and to provide evidence for the effects of normative traditions on the actual usage of preposition stranding. The many examples taken from the compiled usage and precept corpora help to illustrate the different attitudes towards preposition stranding.

Despite numerous studies on this particular linguistic feature, Yáñez-Bouza’s large-scale corpus-based approach towards preposition stranding adds a new perspective to the subject matter, and the author succeeds in her goal of reassessing the effects of prescriptivism on preposition stranding. According to the author, the precept data compilation does reflect the “general diachronic trends” of increased publishing rates in the second half of the eighteenth century (25–26). Yáñez-Bouza also does not fail to mention the connection between the rising number of grammar publications and the social mobility of the rising middle classes (25), which is an important aspect in the study of the standardisation process of English (Tieken-Boon van Ostade, 2008: 10). Details such as these are necessary to illustrate the social context of the period investigated by the author and to further a better understanding of preposition stranding stigmatisation.

Yáñez-Bouza manages to include 285 works of 148 authors in her precept corpus (26). However, no distinction is made between the geographical origin of the authors in her analysis. Despite stating that the majority of authors was British, it would be interesting to see whether there are any differences between the British majority and the relatively small number of American or Irish authors. However, Yáñez-Bouza discusses the topic of female authors of grammar books and highlights their somewhat difficult task of gaining authority, which is an aspect that enriches the study from a sociolinguistic point of view. Furthermore, Yáñez-Bouza discusses John Dryden’s role in the stigmatisation process of preposition stranding and successfully illustrates his influence on other prominent figures such as Joseph Addison, father of the Spectator (291).

All in all, Yáñez-Bouza’s “Grammar, Rhetoric and Usage” fits in nicely with other research in the field and adds an important piece to the socio-historical study of effects of prescriptivism on actual language use. It is a well-structured study which benefits greatly from a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches. This book is suitable for researchers as well as students with a background in syntax.


Milroy, James & Lesley Milroy. 2012. Authority in Language. London: Routledge.

Sundby, Bertil, Anne Kari Bjørge & Kari E. Haugland. 1991. A Dictionary of English Normative Grammar 1700–1800 (DENG). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid. 2008. Grammars, grammarians and grammar-writing: An introduction. In: Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade (ed.). Grammar, Grammarians and Grammar-Writing in Eighteenth-Century England. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 1-14.


Carmen Ebner is a Ph.D. candidate at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics, (Leiden, the Netherlands), and obtained her M.Litt. in English Language Teaching at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. For her Ph.D. project she investigates attitudes towards usage problems in British English, which is part of the wider-research project Bridging the Unbridgeable: Linguists, Prescriptivists and the General Public. Her main academic interests are sociolinguistics, language and identity, and language in the media.

Page Updated: 31-Mar-2016