The Pronunciation of American Humorists

A delightful find in a book from 1874 (On Early English Pronunciation, Asher & Co., London, for the Philological Society): a long list pronunciations used by American humorists to represent the speech of the common American. There are pages and pages of it. Many of them are new to me, which suggests that they are either invented by the humorists, lost to time, or I need to brush up on my Bret Harte and my Mark Twain. Monkster for “monster,” for example, is one I haven’t read or heard. But many of them are real pronunciations, like “flustrated,” which we’ve talked about on the radio show.

I love this particular bit:

“H. This much-abused letter in England seems to escape in America. Of course ostensibly hosstennsibly W is a mere grotesque recall to hoss, the word not being popular. The enclitic here, in this here, been here, etc., suffers various changes, as : h’yur,’yar ’yer yere H.”

(The W is the book’s shorthand way of referring to Charles F. Brown’s “Artemus Ward character.” The H refers to Bret Harte.)


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Posted November 22, 2011

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