Home  »  The American Language  »  Page 314

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

Page 314

by in front. Yet again, there is the use of too and so as intensives, as in “You are, too” and “You are, so.” Yet again, there is the growing tendency to omit the verb of action in phrases indicating desire or intent, as in, “he wants out” for “he wants to go out.” This last, I believe, originated as a Pennsylvania localism, and probably owes its genesis to Pennsylvania German, but of late it has begun to travel, and I have received specimens from all parts of the country. In the form of “Belgium wants in this protective arrangement” it has even got into a leading editorial in the Chicago Tribune, “the world’s greatest newspaper.” 103

10. Vulgar Pronunciation
  Before anything approaching a thorough and profitable study of the sounds of the American common speech is possible, there must be a careful assembling of the materials, and this, unfortunately, still awaits a phonologist of sufficient enterprise and equipment. Dr. William A. Read, of the State University of Louisiana, has made some excellent examinations of vowel and consonant sounds in the South, Dr. Louise Pound has done capital work of the same sort in the Middle West, and there have been other regional studies of merit. But most of these become misleading by reason of their lack of scope; forms practically universal in the nation are discussed as dialectical variations. This is a central defect in the work of the American Dialect Society, otherwise very industrious and meritorious. It is essaying to study localisms before having first platted the characteristics of the general speech. The dictionaries of Americanisms deal with pronunciation only casually, and often very inaccurately; the remaining literature is meagre and unsatisfactory. Until the matter is gone into at length it will be impossible to discuss any phase of it with exactness. No single investigator can examine the speech of the whole country; for that business a pooling