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Poster: clevin@rci.ripco.com (Craig Levin)

I think what most people have neglected in this discussion is
that, for the most part, in Great Britain and America, if you
wanted to speak with educated people, about anything worth
discussing, you used Latin or French. It's only within the last
century or so that one could consider oneself educated without
having some exposure to one or both of these languages, if not
with some Greek as well. English was a second-rate language, for
all practical purposes, until the late fourteenth century. 

Even at that point, however, the selection of one dialect above
the others had begun. Because London was the largest city in
England, and, moreover, was the capitol, too (unlike our
situation), the Londoners' dialect was the preferred dialect of
Middle English. Most people who did write in ME used the London
dialect-Chaucer is perhaps the best known to people today, but
there's others out there. The only person who used the West
Midlands/Welsh Marches dialect for poetry, for example, was the
anonymous person who gave us Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 

Grammatically, the London ME dialect is clearly the ancestor of
our own English. The big modifications to this came when English
became an approved language of scholarly and of aristocratic
discourse after the Reformation, and especially when
Enlightenment grammaticians, under the effect of Latin's precise
and elegant structure, tried to give our language some of the
same structural elements; not really the best idea, since Latin
and English don't treat nouns in the same way, let alone verbs or
adjectives, the poor things. 

The other dialects, such as Scots, survived as best they could as
second-raters compared to the London dialect-look at how
Boswell's English is treated by Johnson-and remained important in
the countrysides where they were native as the languages of daily
use. When newspapers, and then radio, came to the country, a
process of homogenization was put into motion that has been
eroding the old dialects. 

Since I'm not a scholar of American history, I really cannot say
as much about our English as I can about "their English."
However, I can say that until the revolution, our predecessors in
this land tried to emulate the London model, just like they did
when they were in England. After that, it became a matter of
patriotic import to create our own dialect of English-the first
Webster's had a big prologue about more "American" usage. Once
the standard American dialect was established in the centers of
commercial power-New York, Philadephia, and, later, Cincinnati
and Chicago-people from other parts of the country complained
about the dialectization of their own "American English." 
Craig Levin
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