Representative Words

Politics, Literature, and the American Language, 1776–1865

Representative Words

Ralph Waldo Emerson's dictum--"The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language"--belongs to a long tradition of writing, connecting political disorders and the corruption of language, that stretches back in Western culture. Representative Words, which gives an account of the tradition from its classical and Christian origins through the Enlightenment, is primarily a study of how and why Americans renewed and developed it between the ages of the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars. It is the first comprehensive treatment of the background to and the appearance of the wealth of theories about language in the early era of American political and cultural discourse. Professor Gustafson's argument demonstrates the interconnectedness of the state of language and the state of society and turns on the question of representation and misrepresentation--whether and how words represent or misrepresent nature, social reality, truth, and value in the new American experiment in representative republican government.


 Reviews:

"Thomas Gustafson's Representative Words is a sweeping summary of American writing about language between the Revolution and the Civil War. It is, among other things, a wonderful source....The book is a gold mine of information." Journal of American History

"A short review cannot begin to do justice to the wealth of information and insights provided by Gustafson's wide-ranging study." Robert S. Levine, Journal of the Early Republic

"There is an immense amount of reading in this book, and the work Gustafson has done will prove very helpful to others who want to travel his route." David Simpson, Studies in Romanticism

No references available.