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1921 title page

The American Language, first published in 1919, is H. L. Mencken's book about the English language as spoken in the United States.

Mencken was inspired by "the argot of the colored waiters" in Washington, as well as one of his favorite authors, Mark Twain, and his experiences on the streets of Baltimore. In 1902, Mencken remarked on the "queer words which go into the making of 'United States.'" The book was preceded by several columns in The Evening Sun. Mencken eventually asked "Why doesn't some painstaking pundit attempt a grammar of the American language... English, that is, as spoken by the great masses of the plain people of this fair land?" It would appear that he answered his own question.

In the tradition of Noah Webster, who wrote the first American dictionary, Mencken wanted to defend "Americanisms" against a steady stream of English critics, who usually isolated Americanisms as borderline barbarous perversions of the mother tongue. Mencken assaulted the prescriptive grammar of these critics and American "schoolmarms", arguing, like Samuel Johnson in the preface to his dictionary, that language evolves independently of textbooks.

The book discusses the beginnings of "American" variations from "English", the spread of these variations, American names and slang over the course of its 374 pages. According to Mencken, American English was more colorful, vivid, and creative than its British counterpart.

The book sold exceptionally well by Mencken's standards—1400 copies in the first two months. Reviews of the book praised it lavishly, with the exception of one by Mencken's old nemesis, Stuart Sherman.

Mencken released several full-sized supplements to the main volume in ensuing decades, based on the boom in linguistics articles.

Many of the sources and research material associated with the book are in the Mencken collection at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland.

Sources

  • Hobson, Fred. Mencken. Random House, New York, 1994.

External links

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

The American Language: An inquiry into the development of English in the United States
by H. L. Mencken
Information about this edition
2nd ed., rev. and enl. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1921. 1-58734-087-9
The American Language is H. L. Mencken's 1919 book about changes Americans had made to the English Language. The book discusses the beginnings of American variations from English, the spread of these variations, American names and slang over the course of its 374 pages. According to Mencken, American English was more colourful, vivid, and creative than its British counterpart.Excerpted from The American Language on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Title page of this edition

Contents

Appendices:

Bibliography:

PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1956, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.


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