Nativist, xenophobe, and anti-immigration pamphleteer, Samuel Morse was known in his day for more than the telegraphic code that bears his name--one of the many things we learn from the prizewinning historian Jill Lepore in this vivid study of language and linguistic politics in the early American republic. Morse "never gave up his hatred of immigrants," Lepore writes, but all the same nursed hopes that his dot-and-dash alphabet would somehow contribute to world peace. Just so, Noah Webster, of dictionary fame and also anti-immigration, sought to lay down rules for a language that would "build Americans' fragile sense of national belonging," while Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet sought to provide a language for the deaf, and Sequoyah a syllabary for the Cherokee people that would enable them to participate as citizens in the larger society. Language is power, these reformers and inventors knew. Lepore's highly readable study of language and its political uses in 18th and 19th century America gives us a new context in which to consider language-reform movements today as well as a window into the American past. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
In her latest effort, historian Lepore (winner of the Bancroft Prize for The Name of War) explores the significant and occasionally unsettling ways language was used to define national character and boundaries in the early American republic. Focusing on seven men Noah Webster, Samuel F.B. Morse, William Thornton, Sequoyah, Thomas Gallaudet, Abd al-Rahman Ibrahima and Alexander Graham Bell Lepore offers a scholarly analysis of how they devised alphabets, syllabaries, codes and signs "to build national ties or to break them down." The complex underlying stories the personal flaws or the admirable or questionable intentions that fueled these icons' missions shed new light on history we thought we knew. Webster, for instance, wanted to reform spelling to distance Americans from their British origins; Thornton sought a universal alphabet; and Morse was after a telegraphic code that could connect the world's peoples. Some of the accounts have provocative twists, too, such as the story of Sequoyah's development of the Cherokee alphabet, and that of freed slave Abd al-Rahman's literacy in Arabic, which helped him gain passage back to Africa. "Their stories, and the letters and other characters with which [these men] communicated," Lepore argues, "trace the tension in the United States between nationalism, often fueled by nativist prejudices, and universalism, inspired by both evangelism and the Enlightenment." Lepore concludes with a brief analysis of the philosophies behind the Internet, which seeks to make one neighborhood of the entire globe. Although sometimes academic in tone, this study will find a general audience appreciative of its new perspectives on America's past and its valuable insights into the dynamics at work in society today. Illus.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Editorial Reviews