Self-corrections and prepositions

This week, we are reading Anita Auer’s article on self-corrections in Late Modern English letters (Auer 2008). In this article, Auer discusses three case studies, and one of them concerns the letters of Lucy Whitaker (1759-1837), the wife of a topographer and antiquary according to the entry on her husband in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. There are not many self-corrections in the letters: Auer lists nine in all, but one of them shows a correction of the preposition at into in, resulting in I fear at this time of year in so bad a season (Auer 2008:229), and this has led her to conclude that “she was clearly aware of … how to use prepositions”.

I agree, and find this extremely interesting because I have found a similar awareness of the correct use of prepositions in Jane Austen’s letters.

There, I found as many as ten of them altogether, in a corpus of letters that comprises ca. 145,000 words:

    • she will now be able to jest openly over about Mr W. (letter 10)
    • from all that can constitute enjoyment to with her (letter 43)
    • they were in a general way spoken away of. (letter 61)
    • to come back into her old Neighbourhood again (letter 67)
    • not much of upon the Stall, (letter 89)
    • than all the Mystery I can by of it (letter 90)
    • which do not often meet with in one (letter 109)
    • know how I could have accounted for by the parcel otherwise (letter 109)
    • with by Collier’s Southampton Coach (letter 139)
    • but his manner in of reply (letter 155).

I find this amazing: neither woman had had a great deal of formal schooling, but is the use of prepositions something they would have mastered better if they had been to school? Or do we see here that the use of prepositions at the time was still to some extent variable, more so at any rate than today?

Reference:

Auer, Anita (2008), “The letter which that I wrote”: Self-corrections in Late Modern English letters. In: Marina Dossena and Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade (eds), Studies in Late Modern English Correspondence: Methodology and Data. Bern etc.: Peter Lang. 213-234.

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