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

Page 110

5. Pronunciation Before the Civil War
  Noah Webster, as we saw in the last chapter, sneered at the broad a, in 1789, as an Anglomaniac affectation. In the course of the next 25 years, however, he seems to have suffered a radical change of mind, for in “The American Spelling Book,” published in 1817, he ordained it in ask, last, mass, aunt, grass, glass and their analogues, and in his 1829 revision he clung to this pronunciation, besides adding master, pastor, amass, quaff, laugh, craft, etc., and even massive. His authority was sufficient to safeguard the broad a in the speech of New England, and it has remained there ever since, though often showing considerable variations from the true English a. Between 1830 and 1850, according to Grandgent, 49 it ran riot through the speech of the region, and was even introduced into such words as handsome, matter, apple, caterpiller, pantry, hammer, practical and satisfaction. Oliver Wendell Holmes, in 1857, protested against it in “The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table,” but the great majority of New England schoolmasters were with Webster, and so the protest went for naught. There is some difficulty, at this distance and in the absence of careful investigation, about determining just what sound the great lexicographer advocated. His rival, Worcester, in 1830, recommended a sound intermediate between ah and the flat a. “To pronounce the words fast, last, glass, grass, dance, etc.,” he said, “with the proper sound of short a, as in hat, has the appearance of affectation; and to pronounce them with the full Italian sound of a, as in part, father, seems to border on vulgarism.” Grandgent says that this compromise a never made much actual progress—that the New Englanders preferred the “Italian a” recommended by Webster, whatever it was. Apparently it was much nearer to the a in father than to the a in all. A quarter of a century after Webster’s death, Richard Grant White distinguished clearly between these a’s, and denounced the former as “a British peculiarity.” Frank H.