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The American Language

H. L. Mencken

Book Overview: 

"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." - Summary by Mencken (Preface)

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .March, 1915.

[50] The Question of Our Speech; Boston and New York, 1906, pp. 27-29.

[51] Elizabeth H. Hancock: Southern Speech, Neale's Monthly, Nov., 1913, pp. 606-7.

[52] Vide his remarks on balance in his Vocabulary. See also Marsh, p. 671.

[Pg063] toc III
The Period of Growth

§ 1

The New Nation—The American language thus began to be recognizably differentiated from English in both vocabulary and pronunciation by the opening of the nineteenth century, but as yet its growth was hampered by two factors, the first being the lack of a national literature of any pretentions and the second being an internal political disharmony which greatly conditioned and enfeebled the national consciousness. During the actual Revolution common aims and common dangers forced the Americans to show a united front, but once they had achieved political independence they developed conflicting in. . . Read More

Community Reviews

I've wanted to read this for awhile, and eventually decided to pick it up during my recent
Dresden Files
sprint, to cleanse the palate between Harry Dresden's various lengthy and often amusing beat-downs. It took me awhile to finish, but honestly not as long as I thought it would, which is perha

Inevitable Change: American Linguistic Independence
There is very little that we can own of culture. Human culture-ways are as rivers. And nothing is as fluid as language. Though rivers only flow in one direction, a select few have been known to change direction. English is a language which has cros

H. L. Mencken was a rara avis - few writers could or can aspire to reach the heights of his intellect.
In this, his most well-known and accepted book, he elucidates and defends the evolution of 'proper British' into American as its own language, cogently and limpidly, citing irrefutable example after

No, not a dry read at all! Despite the 1930's publication, it's fascinating to read the opinions of the transformation of the English language on American soil...and its effects on the global populate via 2008. I loved the original derivation of words, especially growing up "Pennsylvania Dutch". The

The American Language is a work in lexicographical historiography and philology on the American dialect of English. Mencken offers a detailed account of the history of the emergence of what he calls the American language from the colonial period until the first half of the twentieth century. He does

This is simply an essential book for anyone who wants to know how and why the American version of English developed the way it did. Mencken did a tremendous amount of scholarship here, but he doesn't lose his irascible sense of humor and cynicism. Note to "Deadwood" fans: the creators relied heavily

I read this mostly because H.L.Mencken is a master of language. I appreciate his ability to turn a phrase, his high intelligence, humour and majestic scorn...

But this book is also the fruit of much research and so, even a century after it was published, is interesting for its subject matter. Being

Fourth Edition corrected, enlarged, and rewritten.

Massive study of American--English with the overlay of new words, pronunciations, spellings, and usages, in the chaotic wild of the New World. Mencken's classic is so old (the shock hits when you realize that the 60s he is referring to are the 1860s!

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