Date: Thu, 30 Jun 2005 21:33:11 -0400 From: Elizabeth A. Martinez-Gibson Subject: Americanisms: The English of the New World
AUTHOR: Schele De Vere, Maximilian EDITOR: Davis, Daniel R. TITLE: Americanisms: The English of the New World SERIES: American English 1781-1921, Volume V PUBLISHER: Routledge YEAR: 2003
Elizabeth A. Martínez-Gibson, Associate Professor of Spanish and Linguistics, Department of Hispanic Studies, College of Charleston.
In his text, Americanisms of the New World, Schele De Vere discusses American English in relation to the origins of its people, and its geographical, historical, and social aspects. The linguistic aspect addressed is for the most part lexicon with a few references at times to the pronunciation of particular words. Pronunciation is also reflected in the spelling of the many examples that Schele De Vere provides to illustrate the use of specific lexicon or pronunciation of a given geographic region or ethnic group.
The main idea addressed in this text is to analyze whether certain lexicon and slang expressions are truly Americanisms. Did these words and expressions already exist in the English language prior to the American colonization? Were they borrowed from one of the native or immigrant languages? Maximilian Schele De Vere analyzes these linguistic issues by addressing historical, regional. And social aspects, as well as native and immigrant influences of the times. Language is observed through the lives of the settlers in the United States. The origins of the settlers and their linguistic and cultural influences are discussed, as well as certain social aspects such as religion and politics; and their evolving colonization from east to west.
Schele De Vere divides his text into twelve main parts: The Indian, Immigrants from Abroad, The Great West, The Church, Politics, Trade of All Kinds, Afloat, On the Rail, Natural History, Old Friends with New Faces, Cant and Slang, and New Forms and Nicknames.
Part I: The Indian. Schele De Vere begins by analyzing the indigenous influence on American English in terms of topography. What he reveals is a greater use of British named places instead of indigenous names. Places tended to be named after the first settlers rather than their more poetic indigenous names which reflected the scenic beauty of these places in the United States. Many of the words that are thought to have entered the English language via indigenous languages were in fact of other origins or a combination thereof. The main indigenous tribes that influenced American English were those of North and South America with few examples of other indigenous tribes such as those from Guiana. Aside from topographic terms, terms regarding fauna and flora native to America such as moose, caribou, and the linguistic origins of these names were presented in the text.
Part II: Immigrants from Abroad Schele De Vere presents the immigrant influences in the United States by dividing this part into different chapters to represent each group. .
He presents the Dutch influence in the first chapter. Dutch terms and slang are observed in the New York/Eastern New Jersey area in names of places (Nassau and Catskills), foods (cruller and cole slaw), clothing, social system (boss), and even holiday customs (Santa Claus). In this chapter, he discusses the confusion that existed with the terms Dutch versus Deutsch (German). Many terms that were said to be of German origin were in fact later found to be of Dutch origin. Although it was difficult to determine whether some terms were influenced by German or Dutch terms. The meaning of the terms was what ultimately determined the language of origin. New York’s influence was clearly Dutch, and not German, as was Pennsylvania.
The French and French owned territories in Canada immigrated to different parts of the United States, but their influence is most notable in the South. The religious group, the Huguenots spread south and westward leaving their influence of culture in some of the southern states such as South Carolina. Schele De Vere points out that there is little French influence observed in American English today. There are very few names of places (Lake Champlain) and in Louisiana there are some words referring to nature such as bayou. In their movement west, some terms for animals (gophers from gaufre), nature, transportation/traveling (voyageurs, batteaux=boat), and others were borrowed or influenced from French.
The Spanish influence in American English between 1781 and 1921 were terms that existed prior to the Anglo Saxon take over of the Southwest. Terms identifying ethnic and racial groups derived from the Spanish language (mulatto, negro), as well as terms pertaining to horses, farms (ranch from rancho), foods (palmetto from palmito), nature (ratoon from retoño , canyon from cañón ), and bug terms such as mosquitoes.
German, on the other hand, despite its importance in the United States, left very little influence on American English. Most of the terms presented in this text reflect food and drink, and some slang. The terms for food and drink have not only left a linguistic influence, but these food items such as apple sauce, lager beer, noodles, and others are now part of our culture.
The “Negro” influence, as Schele De Vere refers to it, was considered low on the social scale and their language was considered to be “but a step removed from the African savage” (p. 149). Schele De Vere points out certain sound differences that African-Americans do not distinguish (b and p, t and d). He also discusses terms of African origin that are Americanisms such as swanga=swankey. Some of the terms brought to this country from African-Americans may have had Spanish influence of origin based on historical reasons. The last part of his discussion turns to a more cultural topic of the African-American passion for religion and music and its influences in the United States.
The Chinese influence on language during the 1781-1921 was minor. In this chapter, Schele De Vere talks about the poor treatment the Chinese received in the West.
Part III: The Great West. This part of the text presents the greatest variety of lexicon. Many new words were created since the colonialists chartered into new territories encountering new country and new people. There were mainly two types of people that headed west: the “adventurers” and the “planters”. The terms discussed in this part include: rights to land and land division (squatters and claims), the gold rush (diggings, bed- rock, and prospecting), types of land (bottoms, flats, knobby, and barrens), trees (stump, chunk, barking up the wrong tree, and chopping bee), log cabin (clapboards and stick-chimney), fences (Virginia fence and fence-riding), clothing (hunting shirt, leggings, blanket), weapons (rifle; lock, stock, and barrel; and half-cock), hunting (grisly, trappers, and deadfall), insects, animals, and liquor.
In providing the numerous terms that relate to the above mentioned social topics that were a part of the westerners life, Schele De Vere also gives detailed information on the lifestyle, development, and the political issues of the pioneers and their rights to land.
Part IV: The Church. The people that came to the New World were from different origins and their religious backgrounds varied. In this part, Schele De Vere discusses the terminology related to different churches and the practices of different religions.
Part V: Politics. This part of the text analyzes a mixture of lexicon that is considered political and/or legal to the American system. As he presents these terms, he also explains their meaning within the system. For example, he discusses the different branches of the American government, explaining the duties and composition of each; or different laws such as Blue Laws and Lynch Laws. His discussion includes terms and meanings associated with bills or voting such as filibuster, lobbying, and platform. Terms for different classes or ethnic groups and gangs of the times such as Border-Ruffians, Jayhawkers, and Scallawags, as well as terms for territorial divisions such as Yankeedom, Dixie, Old Dominion, and the West are addressed.
Part VI: Trade of All Kinds. Money and commerce are the topics of this part. In discussing money, terms such as greenbacks and coniackers are described, as well as terms that deal with money transactions such as to run one’s face (credit), foot the bill, dickering, and bank notes; or bankruptcy (dead- broke, flatbroke, going up the spout, or to go on lays. On the other hand, words such as shoddy or bogus, denote the negative aspects of business. Lexicon associated with different trades such as cobblers, barkeepers, grocery stores, store-keepers, and relating to stocks are presented with their significance of the times. Finally, Schele De Vere leads to terminology associated with sports such as card games and wrestling, which led to the discussion of fighting (rumpus, rowdy, and bully), crime, and punishment (spanking).
Part VII: Afloat. The water was one of the leading means of transportation of the time. Schele De Vere presents a wide variety of terms and slang (to go a cruise, and keeling over) related to boats, navigating, and fishing.
Part VIII: On the Rail. The railroad, a newer means of transportation as the West was settled, allowed for new terminology. In this part, Schele De Vere presents vocabulary and meaning associated with the different railcars (palace-cars, mail-car, sleeping-car, express-car and baggage-car); personnel (conductor, engineer, and baggage smasher); parts of the cars, both inside (berths, and state rooms) and out (bumpers). Many slang terms have resulted from the railroad such as flagged, off the track, to be on the right track, on board, and deadheads.
Part IX: Natural History. In this part, there are few Americanisms. However Schele De Vere presents the different animals native to the United States such as buffalo, elk, muskrat, groundhog (or woodchuck), birds (mockingbirds, eagles, buzzards, robins, humming birds, owls, dippers, loons, and others), fish (catfish, sunfish, black fish, and rock fish), turtles, crabs (fiddler crabs), bugs, plants, herbs, roots, fruits, and berries, weeds, grasses and oats, cotton, and moss, trees, creeks, swamps, and rocks.
Part X:Old Friends with New Faces. Here, Schele De Vere provides one-hundred and forty pages of lexicon from American English that have been preserved from an obsolete England’s English. Schele De Vere has compiled this list of words giving both their new meaning in American English and their old meaning in England’s English. He also provides information on regions or ethnic groups where these terms are used. For each of the words he cites examples of its use from varied documents.
Part XI: Cant and Slang. In this part, Schele De Vere compiles another list of slang terms. Many of these slang terms already existed throughout Europe so few are true Americanisms. However the development and discovery of the West have provided new slang terms, some of which still exist in American English today.
Part XII:New Forms and Nicknames This part presents the creation of new terms which result in backformations, abbreviations, and nicknames for states and cities.
This book provides a good idea of the linguistic/cultural and historical/social development of American English during the period of 1781 and 1921. It includes the origins of many Americanisms as well as those words that were not considered Americanisms. Schele De Vere presents a great variety of lexicon for the fauna and flora specific to the United States, as well as foods, equipment, and social systems found in the United States or brought by other cultures.
In reading this text and analyzing the different immigrant and native indigenous groups of the various regions of the United States, the linguistic influences in specific areas become obvious.
This text is a good reference book. It provides a historical perspective of the various regions of the United States: the indigenous influences of different regions, the immigrant influences from east to West, the social influences such as the church and politics, the cultural influences of food, trades, and nature. In addition, it presents a good explanation of words that are truly Americanisms, those that existed before English came to America, and those words that were borrowed or simply created from mispronunciations of lexicon in the other immigrant languages. Schele De Vere also looks at lexicon that existed prior to the colonizing the United States that either, kept their original meaning, extended their original meaning, and/or changed it. Many of the slang expressions and terms observed in this text can be seen in today’s American English and the text provides good explanations of their origins.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Elizabeth A. Martínez-Gibson is an Associate Professor at the College of Charleston, Charleston, SC. She is the author of "Morpho-syntactic Variation Among Two Generational Groups of Spanish Speakers in the United States," (Peter Lang, 1993) and numerous articles. She has been at the College of Charleston for fourteen years and created a Linguistics Minor in 2003. Her areas of interest include: Spanish and English linguistics, Language variation and change of English and Spanish, second language acquisition, bilingualism, Spanish in the U.S., Spanish and English phonetics, and most recently medical interpreting.