H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
Vizetelly, writing in 1917, still noted the difference, particularly in such words as daunt, saunter and laundry; some Americans, pronouncing these words, use one a, and some use the other. At the present time, says Grandgent, the broad a of New Englanders, Italiante though it be, is not so broad as that of Old England. Our grass really lies between the grahs of a British lawn and the grass of the boundless prairies. In the cities, he adds, it has been shaken by contact with the Irish, and is now restricted to a few specific classes of wordsespecially those in which an a (sometimes an au) is followed by a final r, by an r that precedes another consonant, by an m written lm, or by the sound of f, s, or th: as far, hard, balm, laugh, pass, rather, path. In the first two categories, and in the word father, ah possesses nearly all the English-speaking territory; concerning the other classes there is a wide divergence, although flat a appears everywhere to be disappearing from words like balm. Uankeedom itself is divided over such combinations as ant, cant, dance, example, in which a nasal and another consonant follow the vowel; anut, however, always has broad a. Ah, in this region, is best preserved in rural communities and among people of fashion, the latter being more or less under British influence.
But the imprimatur of the Yankee Johnson was not potent enough to establish the broad a outside New England. He himself, compromising in his old age, allowed the flat a in stamp and vase. His successor and rival, Lyman Cobb, decided for it in pass, draft, and dance, though he advocated the ah-sound in laugh, path, daunt and saunter. By 1850 the flat a was dominant everywhere west of the Berkshires and south of New Haven, save for what Grandgent calls a little ah-spot in Virginia, and its sound had even got into such proper names as Alabama and Lafayette.50 In the United States beyond the Hudsonperhaps beyond the Connecticut, says Grandgent, the flat a prevails before f, s, th, and n.
Webster failed in a number of his other attempts to influence support American pronunciation. His advocacy of deef for deaf had popular support while he lived, and he dredged up authority for it out of Chaucer and Sir William Temple, but the present pronunciation
Note 50. Richard Meade Bache denounced it, in Lafayette, during the 60s. Vide his Vulgarisms and Other Errors of Speech, 2nd ed., Philadelphia, 1869, p. 65. [back]