James Cook (1728-1779)

Cook’s language has attracted interest for a variety of reasons.

As a government-supported explorer in the early days of the British empire, Cook was involved in the spread of the English language beyond the British isles. Recent studies of Cook by authors like Carter, Currie, and MacLaren have considered the functi ons of his writing in the conquest and colonization of Australia and Canada.

Cook’s voyages brought new words into the English language, as Gray’s article attests. New species like the kangaroo taxed contemporary practices of scientific taxonomy. Ellis ("Tails of Wonder") and Percy have independently described the efforts of Cook and the gentleman scientist Joseph Banks to describe and to classify the kangaroo.

Studies of Cook’s writings demonstrate linguistic prescriptivism in practice. Politics and public interest prompted the official publication of the records of Cook’s three voyages. Publishing in an age of prescriptivism, the self-educated Cook had to be seen to write correctly. The manuscripts of his voyage journals were edited by John Hawkesworth (voyage 1) and John Douglas (voyages 2 and 3). McIntosh and Percy have compared Cook’s grammar with that of his editors, and early Cook with the later Cook—whose language became noticeably more correct.


online resources


writings (and bibliography)


Cook & authorship

Cook’s authorship in context

(for additions, contact Carol Percy)