H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Subject Index > Page 216
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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.

Page 216
 
a society largely composed of college professors and social pushers. Amen, with the broad a, is a symptom of the movement of social pushers into the Protestant Episcopal Church, which serves, as I have hitherto noted, as the chief center of Anglomania in all parts of the country. E. W. Howe tells a story of a little girl whose mother, on acquiring social aspirations, entered this church from the Methodist Church. The father remaining behind, the little girl had to learn to say amen with the flat a when she went to church with her father and amen with the broad a when she went to church with her mother.  25 In Canada, despite the social influence of English usage, the flat a has conquered, and along the Canadian-New England border it is actually regarded as a Canadianism, especially in such words as calm and aunt. The broad a, when heard at all, is an affectation, and, as in Boston, is sometimes introduced into words, e. g., piano and amass, which actually have the flat a in England.
  A broad a, though somewhat shorter than the a of father (a correspondent compares it aptly to the a in the German mann) is very widely substituted, in the United States, for the o in such words as got, hot, rob, nobby, prophet, stock and chocolate. The same correspondent suggests that it shows itself clearly in the sentence: “On top of the log sat a large frog.” To his English ears, this sentence, from American lips, sounds like “Ann tahp uv thu laug sat a lahrge fraug.” The same a is also occasionally heard in dog, doll, horrid, hog, orange, coffee and God, though it has a rival in the au-sound of audience.  26 Here, as Krapp observes, there is a considerable variation in usage, even in the same speaker. The man who uses the first a in God may use the au-sound in dog. I believe that the former is generally looked upon as more formal. I have often noticed that a speaker who puts the au-sound into God in his ordinary profane
Note 25.  The Rev. W. G. Polack, of Evansville, Ind., who has made a valuable inquiry into ecclesiastical terminology in America, tells me that among the Lutherans of the Middle West, amen has the flat a when spoken and the broad a when sung. So with the first syllable of hallelujah, though the last a is always broad. [back]
Note 26.  Krapp says (The Pronunciation of Standard English in America, p. 82) that he also hears this a-sound in project, process, produce and provost, but it is my observation that they are nearly always given a true o-sound. Prohduce is surely commoner than prahduce, and prohject is commoner than prawject. But problem, prospect, proverb, product and progress undoubtedly have the a-sound of father. Henry James denounces gawd, dawg, sawft, lawft, gawne, lawst and frawst as a “flat-drawling group” in The Question of Our Speech, p. 30, but, as usual, he is somewhat extravagant. [back]

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