H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
altogether the errors here amount to exactly 50 per cent of the total. Such locutions as I had went and he seen diminish relatively and absolutely, but in all other situations the verb is treated with the lavish freedom that is so characteristic of the American common speech. Confusions of the past and present tenses jump relatively from 2 per cent to 19 per cent, thus eloquently demonstrating the tenacity of the error. And mistakes in the forms of nouns and pronouns increase from 2 per cent to 19: a shining proof of a shakiness which follows the slightest effort to augment the vocabulary of everyday.
The materials collected by Dr. Charters and his associates are not, of course, presented in full, but his numerous specimens must strike familiar chords in every ear that is alert to the sounds and ways of the sermo vulgaris. What he gathered in Kansas City might have been gathered just as well in San Francisco, or New Orleans, or Chicago, or New York, or in Youngstown, O., or Little Rock, Ark., or Waterloo, Iowa. In each of these places, large or small, a few localisms might have been notedoi substituted for ur in New York, you-all in the South, a few Germanisms in Pennsylvania and in the upper Mississippi Valley, a few Spanish locutions in the Southwest, certain peculiar vowel-forms in New Englandbut in the main the report would have been identical with the report he makes. Relatively few Americans, says Krapp,19 spend all their lives in one locality, and even if they do, they cannot possibly escape coming into contact with Americans from other localities . We can distinguish with some certainty Eastern and Western and Southern speech, but beyond this the author has little confidence in those confident experts who think they can tell infallibly, by the test of speech, a native of Hartford from a native of Providence, or a native of Philadelphia from a native of Atlanta, or even, if one insist on infallibility, a native of Chicago from a native of Boston. Krapp is discussing the so-called standard speech; on the plane of the vulgate the levelling is quite as apparent. That vast uniformity which marks the people of the United States, in political doctrine, in social habit, in general information, in reaction to ideas, in prejudices and enthusiasms, in the veriest details of domestic custom
Note 19. The Pronunciation of Standard English in America; New York, 1919, p. viii. [back]