Popular Science Monthly/Volume 69/October 1906/Briticisms versus Americanisms
|BRITICISMS VERSUS AMERICANISMS|
By Professor EDWIN W. BOWEN
IT is a recognized fact that there is a considerable variation in the English language as spoken by the two great branches of the Anglo-Saxon race. The English people differ from the American people in the use of our common speech not only in their characteristic mode of pronunciation and orthography, but they also differ from us in no less striking a manner in the use of certain idioms and household phrases, which constitute the small change of our every-day speech. This difference is the natural outgrowth of the separation of the two peoples by the estranging ocean, which is of necessity a great barrier to complete intercourse. To be sure, the fact that the English people and the American people have distinct national entities with the resulting difference, during the last hundred years, of national ideals and pursuits, has had the natural and inevitable effect of widening the breach between the speech of the two countries. No doubt the present variation will be accentuated more and more as the years go by, and the language of Great Britain and of America, far from becoming absolutely identical in pronunciation and idiom with the flight of centuries, will go on developing with an ever-increasing divergence from the common standard. If this be true—and certainly the facts as to the present tendency seem to warrant such a conclusion—the final result may be the unique linguistic phenomenon of two separate and distinct English tongues, if such a thing be not an impossibility.
Before pointing out the variations of our American English from British English, it may be interesting to note the source of our American vernacular, and the contributing causes of the chief variations from the authoritative standard of the mother country.
When our Saxon forefathers found their way to the shores of this western continent and here established their permanent abode, the settlers naturally brought with them the language of their native country. This was, of course, the noble tongue of Shakespeare and Milton. Our British cousins who criticize our English so freely and cast reproach upon it as if it were a mere jargon, a barbarous patois, evidently lose sight of the fact that it boasts the same high pedigree as their own much-vaunted Elizabethan speech. When the English language was first transplanted in American soil, it was identical in orthography, orthoepy and idiom with the speech of the mother country. But the transplanted tongue, having a new and different habitat, began at once to adapt itself, however imperceptibly, to its changed environ and new conditions. Nor was the connection with the parent stock a sufficiently close and vital bond of union to prevent the English speech on American lips from undergoing at least some slight modification in the course of time, as a natural consequence of the altered conditions in the new world.
It is a well-established linguistic principle that a language inevitably undergoes a slight change, determined by the varying conditions, as long as it is spoken. When a tongue ceases to be spoken, then and only then does it cease to change and become a dead language, as, for instance, Latin and Greek. This fact of the gradual change in a living language is demonstrated through the difficulty one experiences in understanding the English of Chaucer, or even of Shakespeare, for the matter of that, although he is not so far removed from the present age. If a living tongue underwent no alteration with the lapse of years, then why should not Anglo-Saxon be as readily intelligible to us as modern English?
Furthermore, a language is affected in its development by contact with a foreign tongue and by outside influences, such as the climate. The first of these reasons is so apparent to all that it hardly deserves comment. But not so the second. Yet the influence of climate on a living language is very fruitful of change. Ready proof of this is furnished in our own country in the soft, musical utterance of the south in contrast with the rather shrill and forceful habits of enunciation characteristic of the north. In Europe, for example, the vast preponderance of the harsh, guttural character of the German tongue offers a glaring contrast to the smooth, liquid notes of the pure Tuscan speech. This is the reason why Italian appeals so strongly to music lovers and to all who have an ear trained to be especially sensitive to sound. Now, this difference between German and Italian, as respects the musical character of the two languages, is doubtless to be explained in large measure as the result of climate conditions extending through many long centuries. If by some violent political upheaval the Italians were transported to the extreme northern part of Europe, it is altogether probable that their speech in the course of centuries would lose much of its native vocalic development, much of its melody, and become harsh and strident, somewhat like the Russian language. It follows, therefore, that the English speech on American soil has undergone some slight modification, in consequence of climatic influence. Perhaps this explains the variation of the American pronunciation of the long o-sound as in 'stone' and 'bone' from the British norm. But the difference in climate between the two countries is not sufficiently marked to produce any very radical departure.
A striking feature of the English speech on American lips is the leveling of the long a-sound heard in such words as 'past,' 'fast,' 'plant,' 'command,' 'dance,' 'path,' etc. This could hardly be the result of climatic influence, however, for it does not appear that the climate has had the effect of producing any modification in the pronunciation of such terms in any part of America. The prevailing pronunciation of these terms is the same, at the south and at the north alike. Such a variation must, therefore, be inherent in the natural growth of the English language on American soil. For it must be borne in mind that just as the English speech, as any other living organism, has been growing and developing during the centuries in England, so, likewise, in America it has been growing and developing during the last three centuries, but not necessarily in the same manner. Those employing the language in Great Britain and in the United States are no longer a homogeneous people with the same national ideals and destiny. On the contrary, they are two separate and distinct nations with different forms of government and with different aims and aspirations. Add to this the fact that the nations have been estranged by political differences which resulted in wars and that they are separated by the physical barrier of a vast ocean. In the face of these obstacles it is not at all surprising that the English speech has not gone on developing pari passu on both sides of the Atlantic. The wonder is that the present variations are not really greater and more striking than they are.
Another contributing cause of variation of American English from the British norm must not be overlooked, the more especially as it has proved a prolific factor. In our new country some conditions of life arose which were totally unlike those existing in the old country. Such strange conditions called imperatively for the invention of new names and thus gave rise to the employment of new phrases and new locutions. These had to be coined immediately for the emergency. Since the most distinctive traits of the American are initiative and wealth of resource, no time was lost in making such additions to the English speech as seemed to supply a felt need, and that, too, without any special reference to British models and precedents. Hence a large class of terms distinctively American and bearing upon their face the trade-mark 'made in America' found their way into the English vocabulary on this side of the Atlantic, much to the disgust of the British precisians and purists, who proceeded forthwith to put these new coinages under the ban and to brand them with the bend sinister of 'Americanism.' Of this class are many terms indicating mechanical inventions and appliances, such as 'elevator' instead of the British 'lift' to mention only a single example of a long catalogue of useful things which American genius has given to the world. Here also belong numerous words expressing things associated with modern transportation and rapid transit, such as 'street-car' 'railroad' etc.
Perhaps it may be well just here to call attention to some of the ordinary terms and expressions heard in England which strike an American as being quite odd and peculiar. It is to be presumed that the good Britons will not be offended if we, using the same license as themselves, venture to call such expressions 'Briticisms.' Let it be distinctly understood, however, that this is not intended as an opprobrious epithet, but only to signify a word or an idiom which is peculiar to Great Britain and not familiar in America. For surely the English people have the right to employ whatever terms they may choose both in their colloquial and in their written speech.
If an American in London wishes to use a language that is readily understood, when he goes to the ticket office he must call it the booking office of the railway station. There he must ask the clerk, or rather the 'dark' for a first single or a second return, instead of a single fare (first class) and a round trip (second class). He must then have his luggage labeled, not his baggage checked, and, having secured his brasses or labels, not his checks, he sees his box, not his trunk, put in the proper van and then takes his seat in the carriage, not in the car. Before the train starts off, the guards slam the doors of the carriages, turning the handles, and at the conductor's whistle the engine-driver starts his locomotive-engine. The points all being set for a clear track ahead, the train speeds along the metals, passing perhaps a shunting-engine about the station and a train of goods-vans.
The variation of British from American usage is not more noteworthy in railway parlance than in other circles. If an American goes shopping in London, he must call for a packet, not a paper, of pins; a reel, not a spool, of cotton. If he desires to buy a pair of shoes, he must call for boots, unless he wishes low quarters or Oxford ties; if a pair of overshoes, he must ask for footholds or galoshes; if a soft felt hat, he must ask for a squash hat, or if he prefers a Derby, he must ask for a billy-cock hat or a bowler; if he wishes a pad of paper, he should request a block of paper. If he goes to a restaurant, he indicates whether he desires his meat underdone, not rare; if he wishes corned beef, he calls for silversides of beef; if beets, he calls for beetroot; if chicken, he calls for fowl; if a cereal of any sort, he calls for corn; if cold bread, he must order cut bread; and if he desires pudding, pie, jam, preserves or candy, he must order sweets, short for sweetmeats. If the waiter should fail for any reason to give him a napkin, an American should ask for a serviette; and when he has finished his repast, he is handed a bill which he may pay with his cheque, or, if he prefers, with the cash from his purse, not his pocket-book.
If in England you find no bowl and pitcher in your room, you are expected to call for a jug and basin, since there a pitcher means only a little jug and a bowl is used exclusively for serving food in. On the street, instead of a letter box near a lamp post, you see a pillar box near a lamp pillar, and you perhaps meet a person pushing a perambulator, called 'pram' for short, instead of a baby-carriage. For drygoods you go to a mercer's, where you will find white calico sold for muslin. For cloth you go to a draper's, for wooden ware to a turnery, for hardware to an ironmonger's, for milk, butter and eggs to a cowkeeper's or a dairy, and for fish, game and poultry to a fish shop. If you desire any of your purchases sent to your address, you order them sent by express-carrier, carriage paid.
If at any time you desire the services of a scrub-woman to clean your apartments, you send for a charwoman. If you wish to have some furniture upholstered, you request the upholder to undertake the work for you. If you need the services of a doctor, you call in a medical man. You must be careful to address surgeons and dentists by the common democratic title 'mister,' since the English custom does not warrant you to address them as 'doctor.' If you are well, to your inquiring friends you are reported 'fit,' if unwell, 'seedy,' if sick, invariably 'ill.'
To an American ear British orthoepy offers quite as noteworthy surprises as the idiomatic diction does. Of course it is to be presumed that there should be more or less marked variations in the matter of habitual utterance of certain sounds, especially the long o- and the long a-vowel, as in 'fast,' 'dance,' 'sha'n't,' etc., which are at striking variance with American usage. Indeed, these sounds are so characteristic that, like the English custom of ending almost every sentence with a question, when clearly natural and not an affectation, they serve as a shibboleth of British nativity. But notable eccentricities are to be observed in the English mode of pronouncing many proper names such as Derby, pronounced 'darby'; Berkeley, pronounced 'barclay'; Magdalen, pronounced 'maudlin'; Cadogan, pronounced 'kerduggan'; Marylebone, pronounced 'merrybone'; Cholmondeley, pronounced 'chumly'; Marlborough, pronounced 'mobrer'; Albany, pronounced so that the first syllable rhymes with Al- in Alfred, etc. It is unnecessary to multiply examples. Suffice it to say that there is a large class of these words the spelling and pronunciation of which seem to an American rather curiously divorced. Certainly American usage offers no parallel where there is so complete a divorce of orthoepy from orthography. American usage makes for phonetic spelling and tends to make the conventional pronunciation and spelling conform somewhat, at least.
Having drawn attention to a few Briticisms, we are now prepared to discuss some of our Americanisms which seem to excite in the pure minds of the English precisians alternate feelings of disgust and indignation. Let it be premised, however, that it is not proposed to include ordinary slang in the present discussion. It must be admitted that too much slang is employed even in polite circles, not to mention the speech of those who make no pretense to refinement and culture. But one should not confuse vulgarisms with so-called Americanisms, just as one should not confuse vulgarisms with legitimate slang. The discriminating student distinguishes between ordinary slang and legitimate slang. The vulgar slang of the street is, of course, to be universally condemned and tabooed. Legitimate slang, on the contrary, performs an important function in the development of a living language. It is not to be inconsiderately ostracized, therefore, and put under the ban as the chief source of corruption of our vernacular, as certain of our purists, in their zeal without knowledge, tell us and attempt to maintain. It is idle for them in their self-appointed role of guardian of the pristine purity of the English tongue to endeavor to defend so unsound and so indefensible a thesis. For legitimate slang, far from being an unmitigated evil and a constant menace to the purity and propriety of our noble tongue, is standard English in the making, is idiom in the nascent state before it has attained to the dignity of correctness of usage. To change the figure, legitimate slang is the recruiting ground whence come the new and untried words which are to take the place in the vernacular, of the archaic and obsolete words, dropping out of the ranks. But it is aside from the main purpose of this paper to discuss the relation of slang to standard usage (cf. 'What is slang?' Popular Science Monthly, February, 1906), and hence this only in passing.
By an Americanism, as here used, is meant a word, phrase or idiom of the English tongue, in good standing, which has originated in America or is in use only on this side of the Atlantic. It will be seen, therefore, that all mere slang expressions, even though they be of American origin, are barred from the present consideration. In his dictionary of 'Americanisms' Bartlett gives a large collection, many of which the above limitation, of course, excludes.
Of reputed Americanisms, as one might surmise, there are several classes to be distinguished, without any very clearly defined line of demarcation separating them. One class includes a large number of phrases which had their origin in England and were transported thence to our shores by the first settlers who came from the mother country and established themselves in Virginia and Massachusetts. In the last analysis these locutions appear to be transplanted British provincialisms, not a few of which came over in the Mayflower. Some of our British critics who are not as familiar with the history of the English language as they might be do not hesitate to deliver an offhand opinion, pronouncing an apparent neologism an Americanism, when as a matter of fact the expression shows a good English pedigree extending back many generations. A more intimate acquaintance with the history of our common speech would save them the embarrassment from such a glaring blunder. But it is so easy to fall into the careless habit of branding as an Americanism an unfamiliar idiom or a phrase that is rarely heard in England. This convenient term has thus become in England a reproach, inasmuch as a certain stigma, somehow, attaches to it in the British mind. But for all that, like charity, it covers a multitude of sins, sins of keen prejudice, no less than of crass ignorance.
Many of the so-called Americanisms are really survivals of Elizabethan English and boast a Shakespearean pedigree, although they are no longer heard in the country of that consummate master of our speech. Somehow, they seem to have drifted out of the main current of British English. Perhaps they have been caught up by an eddy and carried into one. of the provinces where they are still preserved, as they are in America, fresh and vigorous. A moment's reflection will show that we Americans come rightly by our Elizabethan English. For surely New England, Maryland and Virginia were settled by those who spoke the tongue of Shakespeare, even though they did not all hold the faith and morals of Milton. Many of these settlers—both Puritan and Cavalier—were college-bred men, graduates of Oxford and Cambridge. Therefore they inherited the best traditions of the English speech and transmitted it uncorrupted to their children. Nor were their children wilful traducers and corruptors of the King's English, but contrariwise they conserved it and safeguarded its purity quite as sedulously as the inhabitants of the mother country. Thus the English speech was handed down, undeflled, from one generation to another, in America. Hence some words and phrases of good Elizabethan usage have been preserved in America, which long ago became obsolete and dropped out of the living speech in England, where the growth of the language was, of course, not arrested by the rude shock incident to its being transplanted in a foreign country.
Let us now point out a few examples of reputed Americanisms, social pariahs which have lost caste and no longer move in polite circles in England. An interesting example is found in the word 'fall' used in the sense of autumn. Both these terms are in favor in America, although the pedants, following the lead of British critics, proscribe the use of 'fall.' We are told it is not employed in standard English, and hence must be censured as provincial. Yet 'fall,' which enjoys a certain poetic association with the fall of the leaf, can offer in its support the high authority of Dryden, who employed it in his translation of Juvenal's satires:
What crowds of patients the town doctor kills,
Or how last fall he raised the weekly bills.
In his 'Northern Farmer,' Tennyson used the offending word, but of course under the cloak of a provincialism. Still Freeman did not deign to employ it. Commenting on it, he remarks: "If fall as a season of the year has gone out of use in Britain, it has gone out very lately. At least I remember perfectly well the phrase of 'spring and fall' in my childhood."
Another good illustration of a word still surviving in American usage, but long ago discarded in England, is 'sick' in the sense of ill. British usage restricts the meaning to nausea, employing ill to describe a man suffering with a disease of whatever sort. Yet 'sick' is supported by the very best literary authority. The term occurs again and again in Elizabethan literature. Reference to Bartlett's concordance will convince even the most skeptical that the word abounds in Shakespeare, and that, too, in passages where the correct interpretation leaves no doubt that 'ill' is meant. Suffice it to cite only an example or two: In 'Midsummer Night's Dream' (act 1, scene 1), Shakespeare makes Helena say, 'Sickness is catching'; again in 'Cymbeline' (act 5, scene 4), we read, 'Yet am I better than one that's sick of the gout'; and in 'Romeo and Juliet' (act 5, scene 2), we read, 'Here in this city visiting the sick.' Not only so. 'Sick,' in the American acceptation, has an unbroken line of the best literary authority from Chaucer, 'that well of English undefiled,' down to Doctor Johnson, whose dictionary defines the word in reference to a person afflicted with disease. American usage, furthermore, is supported by the King James version, in which 'ill' is nowhere found, and also by the Anglican Church ritual. It is needless to multiply citations. If Americans sin in the improper use of 'sick,' it may be urged in extenuation that they can at least plead a long array of illustrious and unimpeachable authority and are in good company.
The use of 'well' as an interjection is mentioned by Bartlett in his dictionary as one of 'the most marked peculiarities of American speech.' Moreover, he adds, 'Englishmen have told me that they could always detect an American by the use of this word.' If this is an infallible hall-mark of American speech, then American English is nearer the tongue of Shakespeare than British English of the present day. For the word 'well' in the sense of an interjection occurs again and again in Shakespeare. In 'Hamlet' (act 1, scene 1), Bernardo asks, 'Have you had a quiet guard?' Francisco replies, 'Not a mouse stirring.' Whereupon Bernardo adds, 'Well, good-night.' Again, in 'Midsummer Night's Dream' (act 3, scene 1):
Bottom. And then indeed let him name his name, and tell them plainly he is Snug the joiner.
Quince. Well, it shall be so. In Beaumont and Fletcher's 'Captain' (act 3, scene 3), we find an excellent example in the line, 'Well, I shall live to see your husbands beat you.' No one, of course, would think of charging Tennyson with using unidiomatic English. Yet, in 'Locksley Hall,' you read:
Surely it is superfluous to cite further examples from English authors showing that American usage in the case of 'well' as an interjection is perfectly good English, even if the locution is censured by British pedantry and never heard on British lips.
The trite and hard-worked 'guess,' as characteristic of American speech as the much-abused 'fancy' is of British speech, furnishes another conspicuous example of a reputable word in Elizabethan English which has become obsolete in England, but is still preserved on this side of the Atlantic. There is no doubt that our constant employment of this good old Saxon word to do service on every occasion and to express every shade of thought from mild conjecture to positive assertion is somewhat inelegant; and this circumstance has perhaps contributed to bring the overtaxed phrase into disrepute with our kin across the sea. Yet there is abundant warrant in Elizabethan usage for the familiar notation we give 'guess' in our every-day speech, although it is generally confined to its strict meaning of conjecture in that period of the language. We find it used in the familiar sense of 'think' in several passages in Shakespeare, notably in 'I. Henry VI.' (act 2, scene 1):
Not altogether; better far, I guess,
That we do make our entrance several ways.
Likewise, in 'Measure for Measure' (act 4, scene 4):
Angelo. And why meet him at the gates and redeliver our authorities there?
Escalus. I guess not.
So, again, in the 'Winter's Tale' (act 4, scene 3):
But this meaning of 'guess' is common throughout the entire history of English literature, for the word has always borne the sense of think, cheek by jowl with its specific meaning of conjecture. It is so employed by Chaucer and Gower in early times and in the last century by Sheridan and Wordsworth, certainly good literary authority enough. However, this meaning of the term appears to have died out in the present-day British speech, and the word is there employed strictly in the sense of conjecture, its lost sense being supplied by 'fancy.' Now, as between the Briton's 'fancy' and the American's 'guess,' there may not be much choice. But certainly the employment of 'guess' which our British cousins claim to be a shibboleth of American nationality does not indicate any misuse of our mother tongue, as they contend. Only one more case shall be adduced in illustration, to wit, our word 'baggage,' which the other half of the Anglo-Saxon race has discarded for 'luggage.' Here again, as elsewhere in the exercise of our prerogative, we have demonstrated our independence of the mother country in the matter of our speech and have chosen one term while the English people have adopted another, to designate the same thing. Both words have a good literary pedigree extending several centuries back. Shakespearean usage seems about equally divided, perhaps, with the odds in favor of 'baggage.' The Shakespearean coinage 'bag and baggage and scrip and scrippage,' which falls from the lips of Touchstone in 'As You Like It,' and which enjoys the familiarity of a household word, ought to have given 'baggage' a wider currency, especially in the author's own country. But language, like the heathen Chinee, has ways that are dark, if not tricks that are vain, and does not develop according to logic or our a priori conceptions. Between the Briticism 'luggage' and the Americanism 'baggage' it appears, therefore, to be a drawn battle. So the British have nothing to reproach us with on this score, since convention has adopted 'baggage' on one side of the Atlantic and 'luggage' on the other.
So much for this interesting class of Americanisms which repose on standard Elizabethan usage, but are social outcasts in the land of their birth. There is another class of Americanisms which are not bolstered up by a long literary pedigree, inasmuch as they originated on American soil and were not imported from the old world. As compared with the class just considered, these latter are mere parvenus, without any illustrious ancestral history to commend them. This class of Americanisms is composed of phrases which have found their way into our speech from various foreign sources. They have been introduced into our tongue from our contact with diverse peoples from remote parts of the globe. They constitute a small residuum of terms and phrases, the presence of which in our vocabulary attests the fact of our relations with different nations of the earth. For instance, in the early history of our country, we had to do with the Indians, and so borrowed from them certain terms especially pertaining to natural objects. We also had relations with the French, and consequently borrowed from them sundry phrases employed in official parlance, such as 'bureau of information,' for which British usage prefers 'office'; 'exposition' for the British 'exhibition,' and the like. Let these few examples represent the class. It is apparent here that we have made a slight departure from British usage. But it does not follow that our speech, for this reason, is less pure or less idiomatic. Both American usage and British usage show that the respective nations have decided to employ Romance importations in official language, but they have adopted different terms for the same object. This proves, in the first place, the independence of the two great English-speaking nations even in the matter of language, and, in the second place, the wide-reaching influence of French as the recognized official and diplomatic language during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
In addition to these two distinct classes of Americanisms there is a third class composed of phrases and expressions which have not yet attained to the dignity of universal currency throughout the entire country. These are rather provincialisms which are peculiar to certain localities. This class, therefore, does not command the importance which the first two classes already considered do. In a heterogeneous population like ours, made up of people from every nationality under heaven, it is quite natural that in certain localities there should exist some eccentricities of speech, some departures from the received standard—in a word, some provincialisms. It need hardly be recalled that parts of our vast country were settled by other nations than the English, as, for instance, New York by the Dutch and Louisiana by the French, to mention two specific cases bearing on the point in question. The people of these respective states, when they were incorporated into the union, of course, did not immediately forsake their native modes of speech and inherited vocabulary for pure, unadulterated Saxon. When the vast southwest territory was made a part of the United States, the people in that quarter of the land spoke a lingo which had a decided foreign complexion. What more natural, then, than that in the speech of that portion of our land there should exist traces of this old foreign element? Assuredly it would have been the height of artificiality and an unprecedented proceeding for the French element of New Orleans, when they became citizens of the United States, to have renounced their native French names for such natural objects as 'bayou,' 'levee' and the like, in order to adopt pure Saxon terms. Likewise, it was not to be expected that the Spanish settlers in the western section of our country, specifically California, should abandon such native terms as 'cañon' and 'ranch' and so on, for the corresponding names of genuine English origin. Thus it happens that there is a pronounced foreign flavor, or at least a slight tang, in the eccentricities of speech heard in certain localities of the United States. But these are mere provincialisms and do not impair the quality of our standard speech, which is English to the very core.
However, it was inevitable that the English language in America should have received an influx of foreign words on American soil. But our speech possesses a marvelous capacity for assimilating non-Saxon elements from whatever source. Hence the various foreign elements, such as Indian, Dutch, French and Spanish, to mention only the chief importations, have all been absorbed without any appreciable alteration in the constitution of our English speech, and only traces here and there are seen of non-Saxon elements surviving in a word or an idiom as an enduring monument to the influence of other tongues upon our own on American soil. Some of these foreign loans, it is true, are confined to certain localities, and consequently are to be viewed in the light of solecisms, or at best provincialisms. They circulate freely in a limited area, but are not recognized as legal tender throughout the length and breadth of the country. Such expressions are confined chiefly to the western portion of the United States and very rarely find their way east. It is questionable whether they are entitled to be termed Americanisms except in the most liberal interpretation of that phrase, because they are not everywhere current and are not readily intelligible, not 'understanded of the people.'
It seems appropriate at this juncture to say a word concerning dialects in America. The assertion is sometimes made that there are no dialects in America, that the railroad and printing press, the two potent and indispensable agencies in our modern civilization, have leveled out all eccentricities and peculiarities of speech and reduced our language to a uniform standard throughout our entire country. This statement is, in the main, true. Yet it requires only a little reflection to see that the assertion is not absolutely accurate and in accord with the facts. Certainly a brief residence in the several principal sections of the United States would bring convincing refutation. There is the western dialect, as implied in the comments in the preceding paragraph. There is also the Yankee dialect of New England, the salient features of which Lowell described very fully in his famous 'Biglow Papers.' There is no less truly the southern dialect with its definite peculiarities of idiom and utterance. These dialects are quite sharply defined by their respective characteristics of colloquial speech. Each dialect has its own phrases and locutions familiar enough within its own geographical divisions, but not readily understood, perhaps unknown, elsewhere. For instance, the native southerner 'reckons' and 'don't guess,' whereas the Yankee to the manner born does not 'reckon,' but 'guesses' à tort et à travers. As for the western dialect, it is said that three elements enter into its constitution, viz., the mining, the gambling and the cowboy element, a rich vein of billingsgate running through each. An effort has been made by our writers of fiction to register and record the salient features of these respective dialects incidentally in their stories, but the shades and gradations of speech are not easy to reflect and preserve on the printed page with the corresponding local color. Hence the work has been but partially done, and nowhere with complete success.
We Americans are far less trammeled by dialectal inconveniences and perplexities, however, than are the English people. For in Great Britain there is much less uniformity of speech than with us, and the difference between the language of a Scotchman and that of a Devonshire man is almost infinitely greater than the difference between any two American dialects. But the dissimilarity of the British dialects is historic and dates back from time immemorial. The story of Caxton, the first English printer, is well known, how the good merchant from a southern shire, when he inquired for eggs of a good-wife in a northern shire, could not make himself understood, his southern dialect being mistaken for French. To be sure, the dialectal differences are not so great to-day as they were in those remote times, largely as the result of the printing-press Caxton set up in Westminster. But even yet the differences between the dialects of the extreme parts of the British Isles is so pronounced as to be a barrier to complete interchange of thought.
It appears from the foregoing that the indictment of corrupting the English language which certain British critics have brought in against the American people is not a true bill, since no count has been established. Our British critics seem loath to acknowledge any American rights in our common language. Americans have as much right to enrich the English vocabulary with useful words as the English people themselves. We also have as just a claim as they to revive and preserve an obsolescent phrase or idiom. Because a given English word is no longer in use and esteem in England, but is recognized as standard usage in the United States, it does not follow that it is not good English. The number of those using the English language in America far exceeds the population of England, and the English speech is just as vigorous and virile in America as it is in the parent country. Indeed, it has given indubitable proof of its vitality and vigor on American lips by adapting itself to the infinite variety of new conditions in this new country and by the added flexibility, strength and richness as exhibited in its augmented vocabulary. English now is the language of the American people as well as of the English people. It is, therefore, no longer proper or scientific to speak of the queen's or of the king's English. Such a phrase is really an anachronism in the twentieth century, when the English-speaking subjects of King Edward are numerically inferior to those not owning allegiance to Britain's sovereign, who speak the same tongue. Moreover, it is manifestly not in keeping with the eternal fitness of things, as well as unscientific, for our British kith and kin to stigmatize an idiom or a phrase in good American usage as a provincialism simply because it is not current in Great Britain. The Britons have no more right to attempt to prescribe and limit the growth of the English tongue than we have. Nor do they enjoy an exclusive prerogative of determining whether a given expression, be it a new coinage or a survival from a former period, shall live and flourish or decline and perish in the English tongue. No sovereign, no nation can determine this, either by decree or by statute. The most that the British can say in derogation of an alleged Americanism is that it is current only in America and is not authorized by British usage. But this does not make it un-English, if it bears the American sign manual.
It is perfectly absurd for the British critics to condemn Americanisms offhand and to attempt to read them out of the language, simply because they are not in accord with British usage. In so doing they give proof of their insularity and fail to exhibit a spirit of liberality and sweet reasonableness. Indeed, they seem disposed, at all events, to take themselves too seriously as guardians of the English language. It is well enough for a critic to throw his influence on the side of the preservation of the purity and propriety of speech. But it is sheer folly to allow one's pedantry to go to such a length as Malherbe, that 'tyrant of words and syllables,' who on his death-bed angrily rebuked his nurse for the solecisms of her language, exclaiming in extenuation of his act, 'Sir, I will defend to my very last gasp the purity of the French language.' It is related of him that he was so fatal a precisian in the choice of words that he spent three years in composing an ode on the death of a friend's wife, and when at last the ode was completed, his friend had married again, and the purist had only his labor for his. pains. Now your true British pedant seems to think it his bounden duty to reject summarily every word or expression which does not. bear the pure English hall-mark, and that as for Americanisms they are an abomination which must inevitably work the speedy corruption and ultimate decadence of the noble English tongue. Such an one, whether from his precisianism or his prejudice, fails utterly to recognize in Americanisms conclusive evidence of the inherent potency, vigor and vitality of the English language on American lips.