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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 102

of divergent race, particularly Germans, Irish Catholics from the South of Ireland (the Irish of colonial days “were descendants of Cromwell’s army, and came from the North of Ireland”), 33 and, on the Pacific Coast, Chinese. So early as the 20’s the immigration to the United States reached 25,000 in a year; in 1824 the Legislature of New York, in alarm, passed a restrictive act. 34 The Know-Nothing movement of the 50’s need not concern us here. Suffice it to recall that the immigration of 1845 passed the 100,000 mark, and that that of 1854 came within sight of 500,000. These new Americans, most of them Germans and Irish, did not all remain in the East; a great many spread through the West and Southwest with the other pioneers. Their effect upon the language was a great deal more profound than most of us think. The Irish, speaking the English of Cromwell’s time, greatly reinforced its usages in the United States, where it was beginning to yield to the schoolmasters, who were inclined to follow contemporary English precept and practice. “The influence of Irish-English,” writes an English correspondent, “is still plainly visible all over the United States. About nine years ago, before I had seen America, a relative of mine came home after twelve years’ farming in North Dakota, and I was struck by the resemblance between his speech and that of the Irish drovers who brought cattle to Norwich market.” 35 We shall see various indications of the Irish influence later on, not only on the vocabulary, but also upon pronunciation and idiom. The Germans also left indelible marks upon American, and particularly upon the spoken American of the common people. The everyday vocabulary is full of German words.