H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
This doctrine, of course, is not supported by the known laws of language, nor has it prevented the large divergences that we shall presently examine, but all the same it has worked steadily toward a highly artificial formalism, and as steadily against the investigation of the actual national speech. Such grammar, so-called, as is taught in our schools and colleges, is a grammar standing four-legged upon the theorizings and false inferences of English Latinists of a past generation,2 eager only to break the wild tongue of Shakespeare to a rule; and its frank aim is to create in us a high respect for a book language which few of us ever actually speak and not many of us even learn to write. That language, elaborately artificial though it may be, undoubtedly has merits. It shows a sonority and a stateliness that you must go to the Latin of the Golden Age to match; its highly charged and heavy-shotted periods, in Matthew Arnolds phrase, serve admirably the obscurantist purposes of American pedagogy and of English parliamentary oratory and leader-writing; it is something for the literary artists of both countries to prove their skill upon by flouting it. But to the average American, bent upon expressing his ideas, not stupendously but merely clearly, it must always remain something vague and remote, like Greek history or the properties of the parabola, for he never speaks it or hears it spoken, and seldom encounters it in his everyday reading. If he learns to write it, which is not often, it is with a rather depressing sense of its artificiality. He may master it as a Korean, bred in the colloquial Onmun, may master the literary Korean-Chinese, but he never thinks in it or quite feels it.
This fact, I daresay, is largely responsible for the notorious failure of our schools and colleges to turn out pupils who can put their ideas into words with simplicity and intelligibility. What their professors try to teach is not their mother-tongue at all, but a dialect
Note 2. Most latter-day English grammarians, of course, (e.g Sweet) ground their work upon the spoken language. But inasmuch as this obviously differs from American English, the American pedagogues remain faithful to the grammarians of the era before phonology became a science, and imitate them in most of their absurdities. For a discussion of the evil effects of this stupidity see O. Jespersen: Growth and Structure of the English Language, 3rd ed.; Leipzig, 1919, p. 125 et seq. See also The English Language in America, by Harry Morgan Ayres, in The Cambridge History of American Literature, vol. iv; New York, 1921. [back]