Imagining Language in America: From the Revolution to the Civil War


Apr 19, 2016
7 x 10 in.
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In this study of the rhetoric of American writings on language, Michael Kramer argues that the prevalent critical distinction between imaginative and nonimaginative writing is of limited theoretical use. Breaking down the artificial, disciplinary barriers between two areas of scholarly inquiry — the literature of the American Renaissance and the study of language in the United States between the Revolution and the Civil War — Kramer finds in various walks of intellectual life a broad range of writers who “imagined language” for the new experiment in self-government. Each of these men combined ideas about language with ideas about America so as to form cultural fictions, or creative renderings of the nation — its meaning, its character, and how it worked. In order to reassess American linguistic and literary nationalism, Kramer allows Noah Webster, whose influential grammatical and lexicographic works have been considered only marginal to literary history, to share the stage with more conventionally literary figures — the neglected Longfellow and the canonical Whitman. Then an essay on The Federalist and the pragmatic language-related problems faced by the founding fathers introduces revisionary analyses of two New England writers who confronted American culture and society through their Romantic critiques of language: the minister and theologian Horace Bushnell and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Originally published in 1991.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

Awards and Recognition

  • One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1992