Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vol. IV: Literature of the Republic, Part I., Constitutional period, 17881820
English Corruption of the American Language
By Noah Webster (17581843)
[From A Collection of Essays and Fugitive Writings. 1790.]
OUR language was spoken in purity about eighty years ago; since which time, great numbers of faults have crept into practice about the theatre and court of London. An affected erroneous pronunciation has in many instances taken place of the true; and new words or modes of speech have succeeded the ancient correct English phrases.
Thus we have, in the modern English pronunciation, their natshures, conjunctshures, constitshutions, and tshumultshuous legislatshures; and a long catalogue of fashionable improprieties. These are a direct violation of the rules of analogy and harmony; they offend the ear, and embarrass the language. Time was, when these errors were unknown; they were little known in America before the Revolution. I presume we may safely say, that our language has suffered more injurious changes in America, since the British army landed on our shores, than it had suffered before in the period of three centuries. The bucks and bloods tell us that there is no proper standard in language; that it is all arbitrary. The assertion, however, serves but to show their ignorance. There are, in the language itself, decisive reasons for preferring one pronunciation to another; and men of science should be acquainted with these reasons. But if there were none, and everything rested on practice, we should never change a general practice without substantial reasons: no change should be introduced, which is not an obvious improvement.
But our leading characters seem to pay no regard to rules, or their former practice. To know and embrace every change made in Great Britain, whether right or wrong, is the extent of their inquiries and the height of their ambition. It is to this deference we may ascribe the long catalogue of errors in pronunciation and of false idioms which disfigure the language of our mighty fine speakers. And should this imitation continue, we shall be hurried down the stream of corruption, with older nations, and our language, with theirs, be lost in an ocean of perpetual changes. The only hope we can entertain is, that America, driven by the shock of a revolution from the rapidity of the current, may glide along near the margin with a gentler stream, and sometimes be wafted back by an eddy.