LOWTH, Robert

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LOWTH, Robert [1710–87]. English clergyman and grammarian, born in Winchester, educated at Winchester School and New College, Oxford. Appointed Bishop of London in 1777, Lowth was a philologist ‘more inclined to melancholy than to mirth’, who believed that Hebrew was spoken in paradise. His Short Introduction to English Grammar (1762) became a standard textbook, and his name has become synonymous with prescriptive GRAMMAR. Lowth's reputation as a prescriptivist is not entirely deserved. Though he liberally illustrated his grammar rules with errors to be found in the English BIBLE and in STANDARD authors, his approach to correctness was not invariably rigid and, like most grammarians, he described English as well as prescribing its rules. While Lowth advised against ending sentences with prepositions, he acknowledged the construction as ‘an idiom, which our language is strongly inclined to’. Lowth also distinguished between shall and will as the future auxiliary, yet he noted that the pattern is a new one that took hold in the language after ‘the vulgar translation of the Bible’. Lowth was convinced that English is rule-governed, and he defended the regularity and simplicity of the language against a tradition which viewed it as too primitive to possess any grammar at all. His model was LATIN grammar, but he readily modified this to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of English. He also championed English language study in school, arguing that it facilitated the acquisition of the classics as well as the concept of universal grammar.