H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Subject Index > Page 46
H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.

Page 46
As an independent nation our honor requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government.”
  Long before this the challenge had been flung. Scarcely two years after the Declaration of Independence Franklin was instructed by Congress, on his appointment as minister to France, to employ “the language of the United States,” not simply English, in all his “replies or answers” to the communications of the ministry of Louis XVI. And eight years before the Declaration Franklin himself had invented a new American alphabet and drawn up a characteristically American scheme of spelling reform, and had offered plenty of proof in it, perhaps unconsciously, that the standards of spelling and pronunciation in the New World had already diverged noticeably from those accepted on the other side of the ocean. 3 In acknowledging the dedication of Webster’s “Dissertations” Franklin endorsed both his revolt against English domination and his forecast of widening differences in future, though protesting at the same time against certain Americanisms that have since come into good usage, and even migrated to England. Nor was this all. “A Scotchman of the name of Thornton,” having settled in the new republic and embraced its Kultur with horrible fervor, proposed a new alphabet even more radical than Franklin’s and, according to Gifford, was doubly honored by the American Philosophical Society for his project, first by being given its gold medal and secondly by having his paper printed in its Transactions. This new alphabet included e’s turned upside down and i’s with their dots underneath. “Di Amerike languids,” he argued, “uil des bi az distint az de gevernment, fri from aul foliz or enfilosofikel fasen.” 4
  Franklin’s protest to Webster was marked by his habitual mildness, but in other quarters dissent was voiced with far less urbanity. The growing independence of the colonial dialect, not only in its spoken form, but also in its most dignified written form, had begun, indeed, to attract the attention of purists in both England and America, and they sought to dispose of it in its infancy by force majeure. One of
Note 3.  Scheme for a New Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling; Philadelphia, 1768. [back]
Note 4.  Quarterly Review. Jan., 1814, p. 529. The date of Thornton’s project I have been unable to establish. Franklin wrote to Webster on Dec. 26, 1789. See Franklin’s Works, ed. by A. F. Smythe; New York, 1905, vol. i, p. 40. [back]

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