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‘The very defective and erroneous method’ : reading instruction and social identity in elite eighteenth-century learners

Jajdelska, Elspeth (2010) ‘The very defective and erroneous method’ : reading instruction and social identity in elite eighteenth-century learners. Oxford Review of Education, 36 (2). pp. 141-156. ISSN 0305-4985

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Abstract

Eighteenth-century readers received copious advice on how to improve their oral reading. Private lecturers and instructors, often called "elocutionists", disparaged old-fashioned methods of teaching. These older methods encouraged readers to use a sing-song tone and chanting rhythm when they read. These qualities were useful in earlier periods because they aided memorisation and helped readers to project into large social spaces. In the eighteenth century, however, the well-off had less need to memorise and were more likely to read aloud in domestic settings. The elocutionists therefore encouraged a "natural" or "conversational" style, and implied that by following their advice, readers would be able to acquire this. Yet at the same time, many eighteenth-century authorities suggested that good oral reading required the innate quality of taste. As a result, learners experienced a tension between the suggestion that anyone could learn to read in the new style through instruction, and the suggestion that only those genteel readers with taste could be good oral readers.