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

Page 209

for the pronunciation of German is at least as clear as that of Spanish. Swedish would have supported his case far better: the Swedes debase their vowels and slide over their consonants even more markedly than the English. Marsh believed that there was a tendency among Southern peoples to throw the accent toward the ends of words, and that this helped to bring out all the syllables. A superficial examination shows a number of examples of that movement of accent in American: advertisement, paresis, pianist, primarily, telegrapher, temporarily. The English invariably accent all of these words on the first syllable; Americans usually accent primarily and telegrapher on the second, and temporarily on the third, and paresis and pianist on the second. Again there are frontier and harass. The English accent the first syllables; we accent the second. Yet again there is the verb, to perfect. Tucker says  10 that its accentuation on the second syllable, “bringing it into harmony with perfume, cement, desert, present, produce, progress, project, rebel, record, and other words which are accented on the final syllable when used as verbs, originated in this country.” But when all these examples have been marshalled, the fact remains that there are just as many examples, and perhaps many more, of an exactly contrary tendency. The chief movement in American, in truth, would seem to be toward throwing the accent upon the first syllable. I recall mamma, papa, inquiry, ally, recess, details, idea, alloy, deficit, armistice and adult; I might add defect, excess, address, magazine, decoy and romance.
  Thus it is unsafe, here as elsewhere, to generalize too facilely, and particularly unsafe to exhibit causes with too much assurance. “Man frage nicht warum,” says Philipp Karl Buttmann. “Der Sprachgebrauch lässt sich nur beobachten.”  11 But the greater distinctness of American utterance, whatever its genesis and machinery, is palpable enough in many familiar situations. “The typical American accent,” says Vizetelly, “is often harsh and unmusical, but it sounds all of the letters to be sounded, and slurs, but does not distort, the rest.”  12 An American, for example, almost always sounds the