Home » The American Language / A Preliminary Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States by Henry L. Mencken by H.L. Mencken
The American Language / A Preliminary Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States Henry L. Mencken by H.L. Mencken

The American Language / A Preliminary Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States

Henry L. Mencken by H.L. Mencken

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507 pages
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 About the Book 

The aim of this book is best exhibited by describing its origin. I am, and have been since early manhood, an editor of newspapers, magazines and books, and a critic of the last named. These occupations have forced me into a pretty wide familiarityMoreThe aim of this book is best exhibited by describing its origin. I am, and have been since early manhood, an editor of newspapers, magazines and books, and a critic of the last named. These occupations have forced me into a pretty wide familiarity with current literature, both periodical and within covers, and in particular into a familiarity with the current literature of England and America. It was part of my daily work, for a good many years, to read the principal English newspapers and reviews- it has been part of my work, all the time, to read the more important English novels, essays, poetry and criticism. An American born and bred, I early noted, as everyone else in like case must note, certain salient differences between the English of England and the English of America as practically spoken and written—differences in vocabulary, in syntax, in the shades and habits of idiom, and even, coming to the common speech, in grammar. And I noted too, of course, partly during visits to England but more largely by a somewhat wide and intimate intercourse with English people in the United States, the obvious differences between English and American pronunciation and intonation.Greatly interested in these differences—some of them so great that they led me to seek exchanges of light with Englishmen—I looked for some work that would describe and account for them with a show of completeness, and perhaps depict the process of their origin. I soon found that no such work existed, either in England or in America—that the whole literature of the subject was astonishingly meagre and unsatisfactory. There were several dictionaries of Americanisms, true enough, but only one of them made any pretension to scientific method, and even that one was woefully narrow and incomplete. The one more general treatise, the work of a man foreign to both England and America in race and education, was more than 40 years old, and full of palpable errors. For the rest, there was only a fugitive and inconsequential literature—an almost useless mass of notes and essays, chiefly by the minor sort of pedagogues, seldom illuminating, save in small details, and often incredibly ignorant and inaccurate. On the large and important subject of American pronunciation, for example, I could find nothing save a few casual essays. On American spelling, with its wide and constantly visible divergences from English usages, there was little more. On American grammar there was nothing whatever. Worse, an important part of the poor literature that I unearthed was devoted to absurd efforts to prove that no such thing as an American variety of English existed—that the differences I constantly encountered in English and that my English friends encountered in American were chiefly imaginary, and to be explained away by denying them.By Way of IntroductionThe Diverging StreamsThe Academic AttitudeThe View of Writing MenForeign ObserversThe Characters of AmericanThe Materials of AmericanThe Beginnings of AmericanIn Colonial DaysSources of Early AmericanismsNew Words of English MaterialChanged MeaningsArchaic English WordsColonial PronunciationThe Period of GrowthThe New NationThe Language in the MakingThe Expanding VocabularyLoan-WordsPronunciationAmerican and English TodayThe Two VocabulariesDifferences in UsageHonorificsEuphemisms and Forbidden WordsTendencies in AmericanInternational ExchangesPoints of DifferenceLost DistinctionsForeign Influences TodayProcesses of Word FormationPronunciationThe Common SpeechGrammarians and Their WaysSpoken American As It Is