H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
is a t, and a k is a k, and there is an end. There is much less modification of a consonant by the surrounding vowels than in some other languages; thus none of that palatalization of consonants which gives an insinuating grace to such languages as Russian. The vowel sounds, too, are comparatively independent of their surroundings; and in this respect the language now has deviated widely from the character of Old English, and has become more clear-cut and distinct in its phonetic structure, although, to be sure, the diphthongization of most long vowels (in ale, whole, eel, who, phonetically eil, houl, ijl, huw) counteracts in some degree this impression of neatness and evenness.
Jespersen then proceeds to consider certain peculiarities of English grammar and syntax, and to point out the simplicity and forcefulness of the everyday English vocabulary. The grammatical baldness of the language, he argues (against the old tradition in philology), is one of the chief sources of its vigor. He says:
Where German has, for instance, alle diejenigen wilden tiere, die dort leben, so that the plural idea is expressed in each word separately (apart, of course, from the adverb), English has all the wild animals that live there, where all, the article, the adjective, and the relative pronoun are alike incapable of receiving any mark of the plural number; the sense is expressed with the greatest clearness imaginable, and all the unstressed endings -e and -en, which make most German sentences so drawling, are avoided.
The prevalence of very short words in English, and the syntactical law which enables it to dispense with the definite article in many constructions where other languages think it indispensable, e. g., life is short, dinner is ready these are further marks of vigor and clarity, according to Dr. Jespersen. First come, first served, he says, is much more vigorous than the French Premier venu, premier moulu or Le Premier venu engrène, the German Werzuerst kommt, mahlt zuerst, and especially than the Danish Dender kommer forst til molle, far forst malet Again, there is the superior logical sense of Englishthe arrangement of words, not according to grammatical rules, but according to their meaning. In English, says Dr. Jespersen, an auxiliary verb does not stand far from its main verb, and a negative will be found in the immediate neighborhood of the word it negatives, generally the verb (auxiliary). An adjective nearly always stands before its noun; the only really important exception is when there are qualifications added to it which draw it after the noun so that the whole complex