Home  »  The American Language  »  Page 106

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

Page 106

habits that the Irish brought with them—habits of pronunciation, of syntax and even of grammar. These habits were, in part, the fruit of efforts to translate the idioms of Gaelic into English, and in part, as we have seen, survivals from the English of the age of James I. The latter, preserved by Irish conservatism in speech 44 came into contact in America with habits surviving, with more or less change, from the same time, and so gave those American habits an unmistakable reinforcement. The Yankees had lived down such Jacobean pronunciations as tay for tea and desave for deceive, and these forms, on Irish lips, struck them as uncouth and absurd, but they still cling, in their common speech, to such forms as h’ist for hoist, bile for boil, chaw for chew, jine for join, 45 sass for sauce, heighth for height, rench for rinse and lep for leaped, and the employment of precisely the same forms by the thousands of Irish immigrants who spread through the country undoubtedly gave them support, and so protected them, in a measure, from the assault of the purists. And the same support was given to drownded for drowned, oncet for once, ketch for catch, ag’in for against and onery for ordinary. Grandgent shows that the so-called Irish oi-sound in jine and bile was still regarded as correct in the United States so late as 1822, though certain New England grammarians, eager to establish the more recent English usage, had protested against it before the end of the eighteenth century. 46 The Irish who came in in the 30’s joined the populace in the war upon the reform, and to this day some of the old forms survive. Certainly it would sound strange to hear an American farmer command his mare to hoist her hoof; he would invariably use hist, just as he would use rench for rinse.