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

Page 19

English, but the great majority of Americans make no attempt to do so.” He goes on:
Language is made by the people; it is only fixed by writers and orators. When language, especially that of poetry, is too far removed from that of the people, it becomes conventional and hieratic, like church Latin; or languid and degenerate, like modern official French poetry. When language is conventionally used by writers it becomes burdened with clichés and dead phrases. If American soldiers, newspapers and popular novels are evidence, it is clear that the American people is evolving a new language, full of vigorous and racy expressions. In spite of the phenomenon of the “pure-English” American, mentioned above, I am compelled to believe that the majority of his countrymen use an idiom which differs considerably from that which he employs. Whitman wrote a language which is intelligible to all Englishmen (far more so than that of James); but it seems to us inaccurate, harsh and crude, for all its vigor and occasional rare beauty. The language of the American people—judging from a comparison between newspapers of the Civil War and of today—has altered considerably in fifty years, so that a modern Whitman would write a language almost needing a glossary for Englishmen. Contemporary American poets use this popular language merely for comic effect of for purposes of sentimentality; most of them, since they are cultivated and rather literary, are careful to use a speech which is as well understood here [in England] as in America. Yet even in their writings there is a conception of the language which differs from ours. Almost all the American poets in “The New Poetry” anthology seem to have a feeling for words which differs from that of the English. In the works of Miss Lowell, for example, there are few usages which an Englishman would not be prepared to defend; yet there is an Americanism in her language, indefinable but unmistakable. Miss Lowell will, I think, recognize this as one of the excellencies of her work; she is, however, too well versed in classic English literature to have any but a faint trace of the quality I am trying to describe. It is more marked in Mr. Carl Sandberg, and still more marked in American prose; for even American literary criticism is a little difficult to understand, and new novels are bewildering with vigorous but incomprehensible expressions. Englishmen of letters and literary journalists may publish their exhortations and practice their refinements; in vain—a vast and increasingly articulate part of the English-speaking and English-writing world will ignore them. Another century may see English broken into a number of dialects or even different languages, spoken in Canada, Australia, South Africa, the United States and England. The result may eventually be similar to the break-up of Latin. The triumph of any one of these languages will be partly a matter of commercial and military supremacy, and partly a matter of literary supremacy.
  On the western shore of the Atlantic, despite the professors of English, there is equal evidence of a growing sense of difference. “The American,” says George Ade, in his book of travel, “In Pastures