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18th Century American English according to Noah Webster Herbert Penzl 1. The "Roots" of American English A here is no disagreement among the historiographers of the English language that the roots of American English are to be found in the regional dialects and the still flexible standard of the London area of about 1600. The earliest settlers in the 17th century brought to New England and Virginia their regional dialects, among which the dialects of the Eastern Midland apparently predominated. But we must assume that a small percentage of settlers, characteristically represented by the few ministers, teachers, and members of the upper middle class families among them, were also speakers of the national "Standard English" of the period. There had been no standard in the Old English and Middle English periods, the written texts available to us exhibiting only a variety of regional dialects. By the beginning of the Modern English period, however, the London Standard had been gradually replacing the regional (dialectal) standards. But it is characteristic of the Early Modern period, which lasted until about 1700, that London Standard English contained a limited but very important admixture of regional features. We should not forget that Elizabethan English as a whole, serving as proto-American English, implies this "diglossia" ofa flexible London Standard and regional dialects . The London Standard of 1600 can only be equated generally with England's standard of today in morphology, syntax, the lexicon— by no means with its phonology. By 1600 even features of the alleged "Great Vowel Shift," for example, the coalescence of Middle English open [e:] in sea and close [e:] in see, had not generally solidified in standard English. 16Herbert Penzl 2. The Evidence for American "Diglossia" There is no lack of evidence that the American settlements remained culturally and linguistically dependent on the mother country , not only during the Colonial period but after their political separation from England as well. Even a "reformer" like Noah Webster was aware of this (see section 3 below). But evidence for the coexistence and development of American historical dialects beside the written standard is sparse. In Early Modern English, in America as well as in England, the only written reflexes of a speaker's dialectal substratum are occasional conditioned deviations from the orthographic norm (already firmly established after the Middle English period ). These "naive spellings" (caused by the writer's naive dialectal bias) suggest unintended but revealing deviations from the orthographic norm. Town records in New England of the 17th century, as studied by Anders Orbeck (1927) and his former academic adviser George Philip Krapp (1925), show such spellings. Orbeck (1927, 3f.) quotes for salary the spellings . (As I pointed out in my review of a publication by Harold Whitehall (Penzl 1942), linguistic analysis of such scribal deviations must be linked to the spellings in the entire text.) Also, rhymes can provide significant evidence for the dialectal pronunciation of words: Krapp (1925, 2: 99f.) quotes the American poet J. B. Ladd's (1764-86) rhyme mince/ sense, David Hitchcock's (born 1773) home/gum, and David Humphrey's (1790) home/come (see section 5 below). Webster himself (1789) takes note of the rhyme pierce/universe (125f.) and Pope's sounds/wounds (133f.). There has not been any comprehensive study of rhymes for the pronunciation of American English. Krapp (1925, 1:5) sounds somewhat skeptical about their value, at least for the late 18th century : He writes, "If cautiously interpreted, they may serve a useful purpose as providing confirmatory evidence for points of pronunciation which are more or less established by other evidence." The quoted rhymes with the "New England o" may be sight rhymes. The rendering of English sounds in foreign borrowings may cast light on sound values, e.g., written for in Pennsylvania German (Penzl 1938) indicates a palatal value for English before IxI in the region. The most important evidence for the 18th century "standard" English sound values , however, is the orthoepic evidence provided by descriptions of contemporary and foreign grammarians and teachers, the pronunciation keys ofdictionaries, and the respellings in orthography reforms 18th Century American English according to Noah Webster17 (see Penzl 1940). References to the co-existing dialects are mostly recorded...


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