The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States

By H. L. Mencken | Go to book overview

APPENDIX

I.

Specimens of the American Vulgate

1.
The Declaration of Independence in American

[The following is my own translation, but I have had the aid of suggestions from various other scholars. It must be obvious that more than one section of the original is now quite unintelligible to the average American of the sort using the Common Speech. What would he make, for example, of such a sentence as this one: "He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures"? Or of this: "He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise." Such Johnsonian periods are quite beyond his comprehension, and no doubt the fact is at least partly to blame for the neglect upon which the Declaration has fallen in recent years. When, during the Wilson-Palmer saturnalia of oppressions, specialists in liberty began protesting that the Declaration plainly gave the people the right to alter the government under which they lived and even to abolish it altogether, they encountered the utmost incredulity. On more than one occasion, in fact, such an exegete was tarred and feathered by the shocked members of the American Legion, even after the Declaration had been read to them. What ailed them was that they could not understand its eighteenth century English. I make the suggestion that its circulation among such patriotic men, translated into the language they use every day, would serve to prevent, or, at all events, to diminish that sort of terrorism.]

When things get so balled up that the people of a country have to cut loose from some other country, and go it on their own hook, without asking no permission from nobody, excepting maybe God Almighty, then they ought to let everybody know why they done it, so that everybody can see they are on the level, and not trying to put nothing over on nobody.

-388-

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The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The American Language - An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States *
  • Contents iii
  • Preface to the First Edition *
  • Preface to the Revised Edition xi
  • I - Introductory *
  • II - The Beginnings of American 45
  • III - The Period of Growth 74
  • IV - American and English Today *
  • V - International Exchanges 157
  • VI - Tendencies in American 173
  • VII - The Standard American Pronunciation 206
  • VIII - American Spelling 221
  • IX - The Common Speech 255
  • X - Proper Names in America 321
  • XI - American Slang 360
  • XII - The Future of the Language 372
  • Appendix 388
  • I - Specimens of the American Vulgate 388
  • II - Non-English Dialects in America 397
  • III - Proverb and Platitude 422
  • Bibliography 427
  • List of Words and Phrases 459
  • Index 483
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