Home  »  The American Language  »  Page 212

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

Page 212

who?” A recent viewer with alarm  20 argues that this conspiracy against the consonants is spreading, and that English printed words no longer represent the actual sounds of the American language. “Like the French,” he says, “we have a marked liaison—the borrowing of a letter from the preceding word. We invite one another to c’ meer (=come here) …. Hoo-zat? (=who is that?) has as good a liaison as the French vous avez.” This critic believes that American tends to abandon t for d, as in Sadd’y (=Saturday) and siddup (=sit up), and to get rid of h, as in ware-zee? (=where is he?). But here we invade the vulgar speech, which belongs to Chapter IX. Even, however, in the standard speech there is a great slaughter of vowels. A correspondent of education, accustomed to observing accurately, sends me the following specimens of his own everyday conversation:
We mus’n’ b’lieve all th’ts said.
Wh’n y’ go t’ gi’ ch’ hat, please bring m’ mine.
Le’s go.
Would’n’ stay if’ could.
Keep on writin’ t’ll y’ c’n do ’t right.
  But here, of course, we come upon the tendency to depress all vowels to the level of a neutral e—a tendency quite as visible in English as in American, though there are differences in detail. The two languages, however, seem to proceed toward phonetic decay on paths that tend to diverge more and more, and the divergences already in effect, though they may seem slight separately, are already of enough importance in the aggregate to put serious impediments between mutual comprehension. Let an Englishman and an American (not of New England) speak a quite ordinary sentence, “My aunt can’t answer for my dancing the lancers even passably,” and at once the gap separating the two pronunciations will be manifest. Add a dozen everyday words—military, schedule, trait, hostile, been, lieutenant, patent, laboratory, nephew, secretary, advertisement, and so on—and the strangeness of one to the other is augmented. “Every Englishman visiting the States for the first time,” said an English dramatist some time ago, “has a difficulty in making himself understood.