UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Smollett’s manipulation of language in the Tabitha Bramble and Winifred Jenkins letters in Humphry Clinker Flick, Jane


In this work I intend to explain and illustrate the simple and systematic language processes used by Smollett (in both simple and complex examples) and discuss the results he achieves. I intend to show that Smollett was extremely observant of normal variations in the language used around him and of linguistic variation governed by such parameters as region, social status, educational level, sex, or age and, that he used this variety for the purpose of satire and straightforward humour, often producing puns, many of which have sexual and scatalogical double-entendres. Further, it is my contention that Smollett, far from confusing the reader with original and arbitrary processes, exploits normal systematic processes-of- natural language to the fullest extent. I do not mean this to be taken as implying that he lacked originality or creativity but rather that he had the ability to perceive that normal human language has almost unlimited potential for his particular purposes, hitherto almost unexploited in this manner. Also, he had the ability to carry out the extremely difficult task of opening this variety of language to the printed page in such a way that the reader could share his appreciation. An understanding of Smollett's manipulation of language will enable the reader to peruse the passages under discussion with more ease and satisfaction, and also with more accuracy than will be obtained from reading some of the published explanations, ingenious though they may be. It is my intention to provide the reader with the means to decipher words in the text which might seem puzzling so that he may enjoy the word play and the social allusions made through the language, just as an attentive reader might have done in the late eighteenth century. This study is confined to an investigation of language processes applied to lexical items; no attention is given to syntax or grammar although even the casual reader will be aware of departures from standard grammatical practices, especially in Win's letters. Win's substandard grammar, like her misspellings, contributes heavily to Smollett's characterization of her. The words dealt with in this study are those which deviate markedly from the standards of eighteenth century spelling and which, in the milieu of spelling reform, would strike the reader as substandard or vulgar, much in the same way that a cultivated reader of the twentieth century, schooled in prescriptive grammar, would instantly notice the use of double negatives such as "he didn't never." An examination of Win's and Tabitha's misspellings reveals which are merely orthographic departures from the conventional representation of spoken English and which are indicators of phonological or pronunciation variants. Purely orthographic errors suggest the writer's inferior education and, often closely allied, an inferior social position. When Lady Wentworth writes "All my fyer syde is in good health" or refers to "the Duke of Molberry," we can understand from her phonetic spellings of fireside and Marlborough that she speaks a standard dialect but does not spell according to standard. But, when we encounter "Mr. Coshgrave, the fashioner in Shuffolk-street, tuck me out, and made me his own shecretary" (p. 211), we are to understand a distinctly different pronunciation of Cosgrave, Suffolk, took, and secretary. The indication of a variant pronunciation might lead the reader to search out the regional and social dialects in which such variants occur to discover what possible implications the writer wishes to make by recording these pronunciations. Pronunciation may also be indicated not by reported speech but by a seemingly naive form of phonetic transcription -- a rather artful means of characterization This study, then, will focus on misspellings merely as misspellings and on misspellings as indicators of pronunciation.

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