Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

and their habits. In our case it is, no doubt, owing to our remote situation that has prevented us feeling all those fluctuations that come in the progress of an improving civilization and the questionable innovations of fashion; and it is perhaps not far from the fact, that if one wished to know how English was spoken two hundred years ago, in England, he would find it out sooner by a visit to New than by any attempts at discovery in Old England. The Yankees, or New Englanders, preserve, to a great extent, the mode of speaking of their pilgrim parents; while in the land of their fathers that has sunk into the obsolete, or subsided among the dialects and provincialisms. This remark will not be true much longer. The general spread of education, and the frequent intercourse between all parts of the country and all portions of society, is rapidly cutting away all peculiarities, and producing a gradual assimilation in all directions. We have none of those secluded spots, so common in England even now, where, as if by a Chinese wall, the outward progress of improvement is stayed, and a barricade is reared against the irruption of new feelings or new fashions. These are the strongholds of antiquity; but we have none of them: a few years will erase every trace of the manner of speaking that has spread from Plymouth Rock over an empire. The peculiarities to which we have alluded are almost exclusively confined to New England. Her origin is purely English; the small amount of Irish or Scotch will not detract from the truth of this assertion ; and it is among her people that we are to look for those peculiar modes of speaking which distinguish her from her sister States, and as the true descendants of Anglo-Saxon ancestors. In other parts of the country, the language has been modified by immigrants and by the mixture of different nations, or from the class of immigrants being different from those who peopled New England. Although we have Dutch, Germans, Swedes, French, Spanish, Scotch, and Irish, in different parts of the country, yet the English language suffers but little, if at all, from this heterogeneous mixture. The only difference as to language between any part where other than English have settled, and New England, is, that among the first there are fewer of what are known here as Yankee peculiarities, or those words and terms brought with them by the Puritans. A New Englander is known anywhere in the United States as readily by his manner of speaking, as a Scotchman would be in London; not only his pronunciation is different, but his accent and his words. Even those who have the advantage of a liberal education, preserve some peculiarity. Some of those who do not only New England honor, but the country, retain something by which they are distinguished. Put is pronounced with the u short, as in cut. There is an occasional nasality, and an accent, and words are used that are not used at all out of New England, or known only as Yankee peculiarities. Dr. Johnson is an example of how firmly these local or provincial peculiarities adhere to a man, however thorough his knowledge of his own language may be. He always pronounced “punch” poonch, being the mode of his county, Staffordshire, of that part where he was born.

In the Middle States, or the oldest parts of them, where Dutch and Swedes preceded the English, though we may de

tect some distinguishing characteristic, yet there are but few in comparison with New England, and those are confined almost entirely to pronunciation; there are few of what may be termed provincialisms in use, and still fewer of those words and phrases that carry us back to the earliest periods of the English language. If we keep along the Atlantic, and go South, where the original settlers were as much English as those of New England, and where there had been a very small intermixture of any other people, though there are marked peculiarities, yet they are still more those of accent and pronunciation than of the language. We know of no way of distinguishing a citizen of Delaware or Maryland, though we may know them to be of the South; but a Virginian has his Shibboleth, that at once makes him known as readily as if his birth-place were printed on his back. His walk differs from the rest of his fellow-citizens, and he has a round, rolling, superfluity of speech, and puts more letters into his words than is necessary or authorized by Webster. “By” is bey, God” is Geord, (which may arise from some peculiar habit, that makes it necessary for them to open their mouths wider than the rest of mankind, and causes that kind of large oral expression by which they are so easily recognized.) If we cross the Alleghanies we have another nation, made from the same material as their older kinsmen, but still differing with their different circumstances. The people of Ohio, who are largely derived from Yankees, are not remarkable for possessing their peculiarities. The great number of modern English and other foreigners who have mingled with the settlers from New England, have broken down any Yankeeisms that might otherwise have established themselves there. Indiana and Illinois contain nothing peculiar, nor perhaps Tennessee; but Kentucky is as marked as its progenitor, Virginia. The people of that State have not only preserved their ancestral oddities, but multiplied them. Their very peculiar circumstances have grafted a new and original language on the English they carried with them. The want, for many years, of places of education, of intercourse with the older cis-Alleghany communities, and the isolation in which individuals lived, even among themselves, produced new and strange modes of expression. With the rapid growth of population, the increase of wealth, and improvement in all the arts of civilized life, all that is passing away; and the West, from the immigration of a more modern class, from its want of old associations and attachments to the past, will soon be without any of those distinguishing peculiarities in language that belong to, and will for a long time adhere to, their Northern kindred. Notwithstanding certain words and phrases may be found in this country, yet we, having nothing that approaches a dialect, all those are old words and old English, or far the larger portion, and we have nothing of what may be called a “patois," either indigenous or imported.

The Yankees use old English words, such as are as old as Chaucer, and which may now be heard in England in those districts where “modern degeneracy has not reached them” and driven them out. This is the great distinction between this country and England. There, in almost every county, there is a particular language, which is hardly understood by its adjoining neighbor ; here we have nothing like this. The Rev. Mr. Boucher only distinguished two distinct divisions or dialects of the English language in England, the North and the West; though, as we have just said, every county has its own mode of speaking, which may, however, according to the above gentleman, be considered as subsided particles from some one of those divisions. But between the North and West, the difference of language is so thorough, that a native of the one cannot understand the native of the other. A Cumberland or Westmoreland peasant could as well con

rse with a Frenchman as with a Somersetshireman, and these two would be equally perplexed at meeting a Norfolk, Suffolk, or Cambridgeshireman. An interpreter would be as necessary as with one of our tribes of Indians. This is true of smaller and nearer divisions than counties; it may be found in districts, or minute parts of counties. The Rev. Mr. Carr, author of a work on the “Craven Dialect,” says: “Though the dialect of the whole of this district (Craven) be somewhat similar, there are still shades of difference in its pronunciation; and many expressions and archaisms may be retained in one parish which are unknown or nearly obsolete in another.” This district is a part of Yorkshire, thirty miles long by about as many broad, containing twenty-five parishes -and 61,859 inhabitants; and yet, small as it is, the people probably find it difficult to understand each other. But there are other parts of Yorkshire where other dialects are found, Hallamshire, Halifax, etc., so that this county seems to have as many tongues as the Indian tribes of this country; and in Somersetshire we have the Exmoor dialect, which is unin

« AnteriorContinua »