Speaking American

Why doesn’t some painstaking pundit attempt a grammar of the American language…? English, that is, as spoken by the great masses of the plain people of this fair land.

H. L. Mencken, born on this day in 1880, answered his own question with The American Language (1919), still regarded as an essential text on the evolution of the national tongue. In an appendix containing “Specimens of the American Vulgate,” Mencken offers “The Declaration of Independence in American”; the excerpt below is from Mencken’s “all men are created equal” passage:    

…All we got to say on this proposition is this: first, you and me is as good as anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better; second, nobody ain’t got no right to take away none of our rights; third, every man has got a right to live, to come and go as he pleases, and to have a good time however he likes, so long as he don’t interfere with nobody else. That any government that don’t give a man these rights ain’t worth a damn; also, people ought to choose the kind of goverment they want themselves, and nobody else ought to have no say in the matter. That whenever any goverment don’t do this, then the people have got a right to can it and put in one that will take care of their interests.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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