Reference > Cambridge History > Later National Literature, Part III > The English Language in America > The English of the Colonists
  The History of English; The Dialect of London and Its Relation to Other English Dialects Developments  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXX. The English Language in America.

§ 4. The English of the Colonists.


The early colonists in America brought their English with them. They were for the most part plain people and their language must have had all the characteristics of the several dialects which they spoke at home. How far their original dialectical peculiarities are reflected in later American speech it might be hard to determine; probably so far as the later educated speech goes, not much. But the old New England plural housen, clever=good, mad=angry, I be, you be, they be, shet (shut), becase (because), sich (such), wrastle, mought (might), ax (ask), ketch (catch),  1  guess=suppose, and many others more certainly came over in the Mayflower than much else reputed a part of that seemingly miraculous cargo. Some of these forms are not often heard today, though guess has become a sort of shibboleth.  2  If they were once more common, it should be remembered that the situation in America was not wholly unlike that of England after the Norman Conquest; with the relaxation of literary standards, dialect forms, no longer repressed, gained recognition they could not have had in conflict with a strong literary tradition.   8

Note 1Dissertations, pp. 22–23. [ back ]
Note 2Ketch, Spenser’s form of the word, is, to many educated people, the only natural pronunciation, and catch a purely literary affectation. There is a certain pleasant irony in the fact that in the strictly analogous word keg it is the pronunciation kag that is regarded as a vulgarism. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  The History of English; The Dialect of London and Its Relation to Other English Dialects Developments  
 
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