No cultivated ear is required to distinguish different English-speaking peoples by their manner of speech. An Irishman, an Englishman, a Scotchman, or an American may be distinguished by speech more readily than by manner or appearance. With literary English the case is different. Cultivated Scotchmen from Hume to Stevenson, cultivated Irishmen from Swift to Shaw, cultivated Americans from Cotton Mather to Henry James, have written in a language hardly to be distinguished from that of contemporary cultivated Englishmen. A literary language with few deviations from uniformity belongs not only to England, but to the various parts of the English-speaking world.
The history of the rise of this standard form of English makes an interesting story. A search for beginnings leads one back more than five hundred years, to the second half of the fourteenth century, the time of Wycliffe and Chaucer. Long before the time of Chaucer, to be sure, as early as the ninth century, in the Anglo-Saxon period, a literary standard had been formed. Largely due to the literary activities of Alfred the Great and the political supremacy reached by his kingdom of Wessex, in the South of England, the language of Wessex became accepted as the standard