H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Subject Index > Page 215
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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.

Page 215
 
  Meanwhile, “the dictionary and academic prestige” of the broad a, whatever its precise form, has established it pretty generally in the United States in certain words which formerly had the flat a. Those in which it is followed by lm offer examples: psalm, palm, balm and calm. They were once pronounced to rhyme with ram and jam, but their pronunciation that way has begun to seem provincial and ignorant. Krapp says that the a has likewise broadened in alms, salmon and almond, but it is my own observation that this is not yet generally true. The first syllable of salmon, true enough, does not quite rhyme with ham, but it is nevertheless still very far from bomb. The broad a, by a fashionable affectation, has also got into vase, drama, amen and tomato—in the last case probably helped by the example of Southern speech, in which a few words, notably master, tomato and tassel, have shown the broad a for many years. Its intrusion into tomato has been vigorously denounced by an Englishman, Evacustes A. Phipson. “It is really distressing,” he says, “to a cultivated Briton visiting America to find people there who … follow what they suppose to be the latest London mannerism, regardless of accuracy. Thus we find one literary editress advocating the pedantic British pronunciation tomahto in lieu of the good English tomato, rhyming with potato, saying it sounds so much more `refined.’ I do not know whether she would be of the same opinion if she heard one of our costermongers bawling out: `’Ere’s yer foine termarters, lydy, hownly tuppence a pahnd.’ Similarly, we sometimes hear Anglomaniac Americans saying vahz for vase. Why not also bahz, and cahz?”  24 Another Englishman calls my attention to an even more curious use of the broad a in America, to wit, in piano. In England the flat a is invariably used in this word. But here, perhaps, a mistaken Anglomania is not to blame. The majority of the better sort of music-teachers in the United States are Continental Europeans, chiefly Germans, and no doubt they teach their pupils to say piahno as they teach them the correct Continental pronunciations of such words as scherzo, lied and ètude. The introduction of the broad a into drama is a pure affectation, and first showed itself, I believe, at the beginning of the heavily self-conscious movement which culminated in the organization of the Drama League of America,
Note 24.  Nation, Aug. 30, 1919, p. 290. [back]

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