I LOVE MY COUNTRY’S LANGUAGE.

Here’s a pledge encouraged by the American Speech Committee that made the rounds back in 1918, an astonishing medley of patriotism and linguistic purism:

I love the United States of America. I love my country’s flag. I love my country’s language. I promise:
1. That I will not dishonor my country’s speech by leaving off the last syllable of words.
2. That I will say a good American “yes” and “no” in place of an Indian grunt “um-hum” and “nup-um” or a foreign “ya” or “yeh” and “nope.”
3. That I will do my best to improve American speech by avoiding loud, rough tones, by enunciating distinctly, and by speaking pleasantly, clearly and sincerely.
4. That I will learn to articulate correctly as many words as possible during the year.

Courtesy of Geoff Nunberg’s Quotes page, where you will find many more fine citations (e.g., “We have all got to exert ourselves a little to keep sane, and call things by the same names as other people call them.” Middlemarch, Ch. LIV).

Comments

  1. Wow. Though ever since I read that book “The Mother Tongue,” I saw how much English has been in flux, so it’s changed my perspective on how rigid it “should” be. And this is a separate issue from standard communication, btw.

  2. michael farris says:

    huh?

  3. That I will learn to articulate correctly as many words as possible
    And in other ‘Curious Cosmic Coincidences’ news, “My Fair Lady” is on tv (CT1) tonight. BRB, gotta catch some rain in Spain.

  4. What I meant was that this was an effort to encourage people to speak correct English, and I used to think that the concept of “correct” was set in stone and didn’t alter much throughout English’s history until I read that book. My other statement was to imply that I don’t condone the absence of standardization for wider communication. I just didn’t provide a segue :D

  5. michael farris says:

    uuuuuh.

  6. parvomagnus says:

    Wow, I haven’t felt so strong an urge to berate the long-dead about language since I tried to read the public domain modern Greek grammars from the late 1800s on Google Books (turns out, Plato pronounced the alphabet like a modern Athenian, and Erasmus was a dummy).
    Just one: I wonder what exotic locale ‘nope’ was thought to hail from?

  7. They did a good job of keeping “nup-um” out of the language, at least.
    I especially like how leaving off final syllables is equated with “dishonor[ing one's] country’s speech.” No wonder the French are so unpatriotic and cowardly! (joking, of course)

  8. They did a good job of keeping “nup-um” out of the language, at least.
    - Did so.
    - Did not.
    - Uh-huh.
    - ______.
    What is the standard orthography for the opposite of uh-huh? nun’t-uh?

  9. michael farris says:

    “What is the standard orthography for the opposite of uh-huh?”
    uh-uh. (at least that’s my standard orthography from the nasal grunts in question)

  10. Curious, though, that the h in uh marks a “short” u, as opposed to its purpose with the other vowels with which it occurs. For example, oh is a folky way of marking a “long” o. So to write.

  11. michael farris says:

    For me:
    ah = father (non-rhotics use ‘ar’ for this just to mess with other people’s minds)
    eh = bet
    ih = hit
    oh = low, toe
    uh = but
    so that’s three out of five ‘short’ vowels, one ‘long’ and one non-participating.

  12. parvomagnus says:

    ‘nuh-uh’ would be my version of ‘nup-um’. I think out of distaste they may have miswritten that one, unless the ‘p’ is somehow supposed to represent a glottal stop.

  13. Well Michael, “short” and “long” are fluffy sorts of notions here, as we know. Is ih your non-participator? The case of eh is interesting. It does mark “shortness”, I agree. But then, I would make it two all: ah and oh are “lengthening”; eh and uh are “shortening”. How do you make it one/three? Is it, in the end, because there are two “long” versions of “a”, as in “fate” and “father”, as opposed to the short one in “fat”? I demand a recount.
    (Foney pholk fonology, or what?!)

  14. michael farris says:

    Phony pholk phonology used in the system used to teach me to read in elementary school forty or so years ago. Bonus: behold the power of the ‘silent e’!!!
    a
    short = fat
    long = fate
    e
    short = pet
    long = Pete
    i
    short = bit
    long = bite
    o
    short = hop
    long = hope
    u
    short = cut, rub
    long = cute, rube
    (in other words the [j] onglide for ‘long u’ was somtimes not present)
    Of course all this is purest nonsense from a linguistics point of view but it’s certainly not the worst way to achieve english literacy.
    I think one of the luckiest things to ever happen to me was that I was taught to read with a phonics kind of system rather than ‘whole language’ … brrrrrrrrrrrrrr
    so, if we look at the list again
    ah = not the typical ‘a’ sound in NAmerican usage (unless followed by r). actually, in my dialect, it’s the ‘short o’ sound (in the sentence “Father caught a cod”, the three stressed vowels are identical in my dialect).
    eh = the short e as in ‘bet’
    ih = short i as in ‘hid’
    oh = long o as in ‘hope’
    uh = short u as in ‘luck’
    So that’s actually 4 ‘short’ vowels (with a for o) and 1 ‘long’ vowel.

  15. Ah Michael, that explains it. I had a similar fonical phormation, all those years ago. But I suppose the details must vary by “metalinguistic tradition” and by spoken variety. The long and short of it is that long and short are pretty obtuse qualifiers, as applied colloquially. Like hard and soft, yes? What exactly makes g pronounced /g/ “hard”, and g pronounced /dj/ “soft”? (Isn’t that a rhetorical question, like this one too?)

  16. Throbert McGee says:

    Well, I would agree, at the very least, that it’s disrespectful to leave off the last syllable of “country.”

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