Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

<< Postcolonial innovations and transformations: Putting language in the forefront

Thomas Jefferson and the new American language

Jessica Walker (University of Western Australia)



In the wake of the American Revolution the educated class of that nation raised several issues relating to the use of the English language. The resulting change from 'English' to 'American English' was both conscious and artificial, manipulated by that nation's leaders. No Founding Father's influence over the new 'American' English was as great as that of Thomas Jefferson (who personally contributed over 75 words to the language that now appear in the Oxford English Dictionary). This paper seeks to address those problems that Jefferson identified both during and after his presidency and the means by which he sought to address the linguistic identity of his new nation.

To Thomas Jefferson language was inextricably tied up with national pride, thereby constituting a problem since America shared a language with England. In writing the history of the revolution he believed that the English were going to have an unacceptable linguistic advantage over the Americans. Ironically he looked back in English history for a source of linguistic changes that could legitimately be made to alter the English language and create an American language. Jefferson used the Anglo-Saxon history to address the problems of heritage inherent in English, seeking in Anglo-Saxon a 'truer' tongue that pre-dated oppression in England thus finding a linguistic history that Americans could own and be proud of independent of their recent masters.

Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften (IRICS) Wien, 9. bis 11. Dezember 2005

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-09-27