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Example research essay topic: Seventeenth Century American English - 1,794 words

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The paper discusses American English as a variety of English. It presents historical evidence that makes it possible to conclude that American English is a distinct variety of the language. The paper observes differences between English in America and England. Outline Introduction Body Influence of early settlers Effect of colonies Main features, influence of the past Spread of English Pronunciation and dialects Influence of immigrants Differences Introduction of Websters Spelling Purist attitude Conclusion Varieties of English Language American dynamic society -- which puts its mark on every North American and takes its shape partly from him - depends at every turn upon language. It depends mainly upon the English brought by the earliest settlers to the eastern seacoast and to a lesser extent upon the second languages which are as much American as our English is.

The English language was brought to America by colonists from England who settled along the Atlantic seaboard in the seventeenth century. It was therefore the language spoken in England at that time. It was the early colonists that brought us our speech and established its form. Those who came later were largely assimilated in a generation or two, and though their influence may have been felt, it is difficult to define and seems not to have been great. It is to these early settlers that we must devote our chief attention if we would understand the history of the English language in America. Linguistically the circumstances under which the American population spread over the country have had one important consequence.

It has repeatedly been observed, in the past as well as at the present day, especially by travelers from abroad, that the English spoken in America shows a high degree of uniformity. Those who are familiar with the pronounced dialectal differences that mark the popular speech of different parts of England will know that there is nothing comparable to these differences in the United States. A second quality often attributed to American English is archaism; the preservation of old features of the language which have gone out of use in the standard speech of England. Our pronunciation as compared with that of London is somewhat old-fashioned.

It has qualities that were characteristic of English speech in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The preservation of the r in General American and the flat a in fast, path, etc. , are two such that were abandoned in southern England at the end of the eighteenth century. In many little ways standard American English is reminiscent of an older period of the language. The American I guess, so often ridiculed in England, is as old as Chaucer and was still current in English speech in the seventeenth century.

At the present time American pronunciation shows certain well-marked differences from English use. The differences between English and American pronunciation are not such as should cause any alarm for the future, any fear that Englishmen and Americans may become unintelligible to each other. There are three main dialects in American English -- the New England dialect, the Southern dialect, and General American, meaning the dialect of all the rest of the country. The differences between the English of one section and that of another are not great. The universal spread of education in modern times and the absence of any sharp differentiation of social classes in this country are not favorable to the development or maintenance of dialect. English speaking people who were born and brought up in North America speak one or another of several characteristic American dialects.

They can be identified as North Americans as soon as they begin to speak, but often they cannot be identified by Asians or Europeans as coming from any particular part of the continent. To the outsider the differences between the varieties of American speech are so slight that it is hard for him to think of these varieties as dialects. A European, accustomed to British English with its clean-cut social-class differences, does not hear comparable differences in American speech; he has to look for other evidence in conduct or knowledge to judge whether a person has little or much education. A few quirks in some American dialects would remind the European of Scottish, North-of-England, or Irish speech, but they are in the sounds we make; our grammar and our vocabulary are dead giveaways of our origin.

American English is a colonial speech. It has been carried to this continent by settlers; it was not used here before the settlers came. Aristocratic or upper-class English was not much represented in the colonies; few lords and ladies found reason to emigrate, and most of those that came did not stay long. The people who came and stayed were from the middle and lower classes; even in the southern colonies, where an aristocratic way of life developed, the language of the new aristocracy was the speech of the middle class. As the American settlements expanded, more immigrants came from the different parts of Britain in a succession of mass movements, so that American English was continually reseeded with British dialects of different times and places. Thus the chances of immigration brought diverse influences to bear on the developing American dialects.

On the basis of recent studies we can now make a fairly accurate division of the dialects of American English. First, there is a string of dialects along the eastern seaboard showing marked local variation. We divide them broadly into South Atlantic; Middle Atlantic; Eastern Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey; and New England (from the Connecticut River east). Around the mouth of the St. Lawrence and to its east and south there are the distinct speeches of the Gaspe, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, shading off into northern Maine. There are probably more speakers of Gaelic in eastern Canada than in Scotland.

It is too easy to emphasize the distinctiveness of the English language in America, since most of its peculiarities are obvious to any discriminating ear. Certainly the Scottish, the Irish, and the English do not talk the way we do. Nor do they live the way we do. There are cultural differences within the American continent quite as deep and far-reaching as those that separate us from the British; these differences rise out of the manifold origins of our people; yet we share with the British a set of social institutions and social ideals that mark us both off from the rest of the world. Since the distinctive features of American dialects go back to differences within the British dialects, one American dialect will be close to British usage in exactly the respects in which another will differ. British English has always displayed far greater differences between dialects than American English has, especially between London English and local rural dialects.

The passion for complete political independence of England bred a general hostility to all English authority, whatever its character, and that hostility, in the direction of present concern to us, culminated in the revolutionary attitude of Noah Websters Dissertations on the English Language, printed in 1789. Webster harbored no fantastic notion of abandoning English altogether, but he was eager to set up American as a distinct and independent dialect. He said, Let us, seize the present moment, and establish a national language as well as a national government... As an independent nation our honor requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government.

At the time of the American Revolution and especially in the years immediately following it there is evidence that Americans were beginning to be conscious of their language and to believe that it might be destined to have a future as glorious as that which they confidently expected for the country itself. The Declaration of Independence and the years during which the colonies were fighting to establish their freedom from England produced an important change in American psychology. Moved by patriotism to provide a dictionary containing words and meanings of American origin, as well as the basic English vocabulary and more accurate etymologies, Noah Webster devoted twenty-eight years to the preparation of An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828). This monumental work, the last of the great dictionaries prepared by one man without the financial support of a publisher, immediately gained the reputation of being the best available. Franklin himself had invented a new American alphabet and drawn up a characteristically American scheme of spelling reform, and had offered plenty of proof in it, perhaps unconsciously, that the standards of spelling and pronunciation in the New World had already diverged noticeably from those accepted on the other side of the ocean. In acknowledging the dedication of Websters Dissertations Franklin endorsed both his revolt against English domination and his forecast of widening differences in future, though protesting at the same time against certain Americanisms that have since come into good usage, and even migrated to England.

Franklins protest to Webster was marked by his habitual mildness, but in other quarters dissent was voiced with far less urbanity. The growing independence of the colonial dialect, not only in its spoken form, but also in its most dignified written form, had begun, indeed, to attract the attention of purists in both England and America. The controversy over Americanisms has at times been more or less connected in this country with the purist attitude, always an element in linguistic discussions in any age. There is nothing, of course, to compel the purist in America to be hostile to an American standard of purity, but as a matter of fact he was in the beginning almost always identical with one who accepted English usage as a norm and believed that we should conform as completely as possible to it. The purist ideal is a manifestation of the same temperament in America as elsewhere in the world.

The peculiar feature of it in this country is that it has generally been guided by a considerable respect for English opinion and usage. Any language spoken here by our people is an American language, no matter where it originated; it is part of our heritage. But it is English by which we communicate, face-to-face across a table, by telephone or radio across a city or the continent, by telegraph or teletype, by letter, newspaper, pamphlet, periodical, or book, to carry on most of our daily business and weave the texture of our literature. Bibliography: George P. Knapp, The English Language in America (2 v. , New York, 1925). M.

M. Mathews, The Beginnings of American English (Chicago, 1931). James Milroy, Lesley Milroy, Authority in Language: Investigating Standard English (Routledge, 1999). H.

L. Mencken, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States (Alfred A. Knopf, 1921).


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Research essay sample on Seventeenth Century American English

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