H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
heard the call, but too soon; in our own time, young Mr. Weaver has shown what may be done tomorrow, and Carl Sandburg has also made experiments. The Irish dialect of English, vastly less important than the American, has already had its interpretersDouglas Hyde, John Millington Synge and Augusta Gregorywith what extraordinary results we all know.25 Here we have writing that is still indubitably English, but English rid of its artificial restraints and broken to the less self-conscious grammar and syntax of a simple and untutored folk. Synge, in his preface to The Playboy of the Western World, tells us how he got his gipsy phrases through a chink in the floor of the old Wicklow house where I was staying, that let me hear what was being said by the servant girls in the kitchen. There is no doubt, he goes on, that in the happy ages of literature striking and beautiful phrases were as ready to the story-tellers or the playwrights hand as the rich cloaks and dresses of his time. It is probable that when the Elizabethan dramatist took his ink-horn and sat down to his work he used many phrases that he had just heard, as he sat at dinner, from his mother or his children.
The result, in the case of the neo-Celts, is a dialect that stands incomparably above the tight English of the grammariansa dialect so naïve, so pliant, so expressive, and, adeptly managed, so beautiful that even purists have begun to succumb to it, and it promises to leave lasting marks upon English style. The American dialect has not yet come to that stage. In so far as it is apprehended at all it is only in the sense that Irish-English was apprehended a generation agothat is, as something uncouth and comic. But that is the way that new dialects always come inthrough a drum-fire of cackles. Given the poet, there may suddenly come a day when our theirns and woulda hads will take on the barbaric stateliness of the peasant locutions of old Maurya in Riders to the Sea. They seem grotesque and absurd today because the folks who use them seem grotesque and absurd. But that is a too facile logic and under it
Note 25. The Sicilian dialect of Italian has been brought to dignity in the same way by Giovanni Verga, author of the well-known Cavalleria Rusticana. See Giovanni Verga and the Sicilian Novel, by Carlo Linati, Dial, Aug., 1921, p. 150 ff. [back]