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

Page 20

New,” “must go to England in order to learn for a dead certainty that he does not speak the English language.… This pitiful fact comes home to every American when he arrives in London—that there are two languages, the English and the American. One is correct; the other is incorrect. One is a pure and limpid stream; the other is a stagnant pool swarming with bacilli.” 35 This was written in 1906. Twenty-five years earlier Mark Twain had made the same observation. “When I speak my native tongue in its utmost purity in England,” he said, “an Englishman can’t understand me at all.” 36 The languages, continued Mark, “were identical several generations ago, but our changed conditions and the spread of our people far to the south and far to the west have made many alterations in our pronunciation, and have introduced new words among us and changed the meanings of old ones.” Even before this the great humorist had marked and hailed these differences. Already in “Roughing It” he was celebrating “the vigorous new vernacular of the occidental plains and mountains,” 37 and in all his writings, even the most serious, he deliberately engrafted its greater liberty and more fluent idiom upon the stem of English, and so lent the dignity of his high achievement to a dialect that was as unmistakably American as the point of view underlying it.
  The same tendency is plainly visible in William Dean Howells. His novels are mines of American idiom, and his style shows an undeniable revolt against the trammels of English grammarians. In 1886 he made a plea in Harper’s for a concerted effort to put American on its own legs. “If we bother ourselves,” he said, “to write what the critics imagine to be ‘English,’ we shall be priggish and artificial, and still more so if we make our Americans talk ‘English.’… On our lips our continental English will differ more and more from the insular English, and we believe that this is not deplorable but desirable.” 38 Howells then proceeded to discuss the nature of the difference, and described it accurately as determined