New England Dialect.

From Bay State Monthly

New England Dialect.

Isaac Bassett Choate

      It is assumed abroad, and is not denied at home, that New England has a dialect peculiar to herself. This dialect is popularly supposed to have been developed on New England soil. We hear and read a good deal about the New England twang, as though it were something to be heard nowhere else, and a pilgrimage within her borders were necessary to meet with instances of this nasalization; at any rate, as though any such vulgar practice were wholly unknown in England except as a mark of provincial life. A recent writer of that country says that "residence in a colony and nasalization belong now to cause and effect." This was written of the colonists in Australia; and, by the way, it may be said that it is altogether mere matter of opinion. What can be shown historically in the case is that the twang was made the distinctive mark of Puritanism in England from 1620 to 1660, and it is still charged exclusively upon New England speech just the same as the character for which it stood is still given to our life and manners.
      If it be found that New England has indeed developed a dialect of her own, it can be shown that this is the outcome of natural selection. It is, moreover, the standard usage of that which English writers are pleased frequently to speak of as "the American language." Its forms of speech, and the tones in which these are spoken, constitute the leading Americanisms. That these forms are one and all purely of English origin, and are still in much more common use in the Old Country than in the New, may seem not an easy thing to show. Particularly difficult does the undertaking appear to one whose observation has been limited to New England, and who finds himself restricted to a line of procedure which runs parallel with, but counter to, that ancient course of appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober.
      It is chiefly from English writers that the illustrations of this argument will be drawn. There is no lack of them wherever we may turn the pages of English literature. Poets have always enriched their vocabulary from rustic sources, and they have limbered up metre and rhyme with provincial ways of speaking. It is enough only to mention the dialect poems of Tennyson, in which he gives us specimens of the thought and the talk with which he was familiar in his early Lincolnshire home. "The Northern Farmer, Old Style," and "The Northern Farmer, New Style," are about

-- page 1 --

These pages are © Laurel O'Donnell, 2005, all rights reserved
Copying these pages without written permission for the purpose of republishing
in print or electronic format is strictly forbidden
This page was last updated on 20 Jul 2005