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The American Language de H. L. Mencken
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The American Language (original: 1936; edição: 2011)

de H. L. Mencken (Autor)

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658326,062 (4.43)16
Perhaps the first truly important book about the divergence of American English from its British roots, this survey of the language as it was spoken-and as it was changing-at the beginning of the 20th century comes via one of its most inveterate watchers, journalist, critic, and editor HENRY LOUIS MENCKEN (1880-1956). In this replica of the 1921 "revised and enlarged" second edition, Mencken turns his keen ear on: - the general character of American English - loan-words and non-English influences - expletives and forbidden words - American slang - the future of the language - and much, much more. Anyone fascinated by words will find this a thoroughly enthralling look at the most changeable language on the face of the planet.… (mais)
Membro:flevinoleary
Título:The American Language
Autores:H. L. Mencken (Autor)
Informação:Waking Lion Press (2011), 482 pages
Coleções:Sua biblioteca
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Detalhes da Obra

The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States {Fourth Edition} de H. L. Mencken (1936)

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I've wanted to read this for awhile, and eventually decided to pick it up during my recent [b:Dresden Files|47212|Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)|Jim Butcher|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1345556917s/47212.jpg|1137060] sprint, to cleanse the palate between Harry Dresden's various lengthy and often amusing beat-downs. It took me awhile to finish, but honestly not as long as I thought it would, which is perhaps a testament to Mencken's ability to compellingly weave a tale about something as simultaneously ordinary and urbane as the everyday language in which we speak.

The main body of the book can be split into roughly three parts. The first five chapters covers the history of American as a language. Chapters V through VIII provide various grammatical explanations of "standard" American language, as it existed in Mencken's day. Chapters IX through XI focus on vulgar American language. After a short chapter with Mencken's predictions on the future of the language (XII), there's a long Appendix exploring more than two dozen languages that exist in various parts of the U.S., primarily in immigrant communities.

By and large, the most interesting part of the book for me was those first few chapters exploring the history of the language. Mencken very effectively shows how there mere fact of arriving in America forced explorers and settlers to begin developing their own language to describe the new plants, animals, landscapes and peoples they encountered. One of my favorite anecdotes is Mencken's description of the evolution of the word "raccoon" as people attempted to transcribe it from its original Native American pronunciation:

Thus, in [a:Captain John Smith|7098152|Captain John Smith|http://www.goodreads.com/assets/nophoto/nophoto-U-50x66-251a730d696018971ef4a443cdeaae05.jpg]'s "True Relation," published in 1608, one finds mention of a strange beast described variously as a rahaugcum and a raugroughcum. Four years later, in [a:William Strachey|853271|William Strachey|http://www.goodreads.com/assets/nophoto/nophoto-U-50x66-251a730d696018971ef4a443cdeaae05.jpg]'s "[b:Historie of Trevaile Into Virginia Britannia]" it became an aracoune, "much like a badger," and by 1624 Smith had made it a rarowcun in his "Virginia." It was not until 1672 that it emerged as the raccoon we know today.

Mencken doesn't only focus how new words come into the language. He also shows how America's separation from England prevented developments in the parent tongue from replicating in American. For example, while [a:Shakespeare|947|William Shakespeare|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1360741702p2/947.jpg] was busily coining words and phrases in Elizabethan England, the American language had little opportunity, initially anyway, to benefit directly from his inventiveness. Such differences due to separation weren't limited to new vocabulary. Existing words also changed their meaning, including which words were acceptable to speakers of "standard" English. Mencken points to a number of cases in which perfectly legitimate English terminology and phraseology survived in America but became disused in England, and then later became known as Americanisms, although they could more accurately be called archaisms that had simply fallen out of vogue.

Mencken also spends a lot of time showing how American language absorbed the language of other cultures. Many more words than "raccoon" have their roots in Native American language. Likewise, contact with the various explorers, settlers and later immigrants brought new words and phrases into the language. Most interestingly, however, Mencken notes the propensity of Americans to simply create new words to accommodate ideas as they are needed. Some of these stick around, though many tend, eventually, to fall by the wayside. And it's hard to predict which will remain ahead of time.

Mencken is also quite fond of word lists. At one point, he lists a stunningly large number of supposedly offensive words that I could only laugh, both at its size and the relative mildness of its members, before wondering whether he had a private list of more uncivil terms — and how I might get my hands on it. However, as might be expected, at times such lists are a little tedious. Part of why I like the earlier chapters so much is that they tell a story, weaving words and word groups together with their historical context and how they both affected and were affected by the people who used them. In the last few chapters, Mencken tends to ditch narrative and undertake the role of cataloger. I would be lying if I didn't admit to glossing over some portions of the last several chapters. Likewise for the Appendix.

That said, overall Mencken does an excellent job of balancing scholarship with storytelling. For anyone who has even the slightest interest in American as a language, there are a lot of treasures to uncover, and undoubtedly you will come away with ideas and inquiries to pursue further. This was the last edition Mencken produced, and it still remains a compelling read today. Although there have been other books written about the American language (or aspects of it) since 1936, I suspect it would be difficult to find any that are more enjoyable.


An expanded version of this review is available at CurtisWeyant.com ( )
  octoberdad | Dec 16, 2020 |
Word-Nerds come find your fodder.: We all knew Mencken was a master of wit, but little did we know that his mastery of words could also be introspective to the language itself. As a linguistics major, I found this tome extremely interesting. If you want meticulous detail on the historyu and the divergence from the British English, snap this book up. If you're still not satisfied, hunt around for the appedices he wrote later in his life.
  mugwump2 | Nov 29, 2008 |
Still indispensable introduction to American English.
  bobshackleton | Mar 22, 2008 |
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Perhaps the first truly important book about the divergence of American English from its British roots, this survey of the language as it was spoken-and as it was changing-at the beginning of the 20th century comes via one of its most inveterate watchers, journalist, critic, and editor HENRY LOUIS MENCKEN (1880-1956). In this replica of the 1921 "revised and enlarged" second edition, Mencken turns his keen ear on: - the general character of American English - loan-words and non-English influences - expletives and forbidden words - American slang - the future of the language - and much, much more. Anyone fascinated by words will find this a thoroughly enthralling look at the most changeable language on the face of the planet.

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