James Adams (1737-1802)

Martina Häcker, Universität Konstanz


James Adams is one of the ‘forgotten phoneticians’. Although his main linguistic work, The Pronunciation of the English Language Vindicated from Imputed Anomaly & Caprice, With an Appendix, on the Dialects of Human Speech in all Countries, and an Analytical Discussion and Vindication of the Dialect of Scotland (1799) is available again thanks to a reprint by the Scolar Press, his contribution to historical phonology is still underrated and our knowledge of his life remains rather sketchy.


The aim of this paper is to show the innovation of Adams' work on English phonology and to investigate what motivated him to include in it a ‘vindication of the dialect of Scotland.’ The paper will argue that Adams' views on English dialects as well as on the origin of language are to some extent informed by the socio-political situation at the end of the eighteenth century, but that the decisive factor which shaped his views on language and dialects was his religious background as an English Jesuit in the eighteenth century: education on the continent, training in dialectical argumentation, work under various aliases in the English mission and membership of an officially prosecuted religious minority.