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This test consists of 5 short answer questions, 10 short essay questions, and 1 (of 3) essay topics.
Short Answer Questions
1. What "Anglomaniac affectation" did Noah Webster sneer at in 1789?
2. What letter, when preceding a consonant, greatly irritated Henry James like a "morose grinding of the back teeth?"
3. What is the principal reason Mencken states that the English language has not greatly diverged since the foundation of the United States of America?
4. Who proposed a generally accepted nomenclature for currency in 1785?
5. Who "tries" a legal case in England?
Short Essay Questions
1. What two principal sources does Mencken identify as adding new words to the American English in Chapter 2.2?
2. What is the significance of the quote from Sayce at the beginning of Chapter 9.9 that "Language begins with sentences, not with single words"?
3. What does Mencken imply about the vulgar American usage of forms such as "yourn," "hisn," and "theirn," in Chapter 9.4?
4. Who does Grandgent say are under the influence of the British in terms of their pronunciation?
5. What was the predominant attitude of philologists towards the study of American slang, at the time of Mencken's writing?
6. What was the overall effect of Noah Webster on the spelling of American English?
7. What was Walt Whitman's role in the development of the national literature of the United States?
8. What, in Chapter 1.3, is the main conflict of ideas that Mencken puts forth?
9. What is indicated by dominance of American terms derived from German that are related to eating and drinking?
10. What characterizes the differences between American and English usage of lower-class idioms?
Write an essay for ONE of the following topics:
Essay Topic 1
An interesting part of speech, according to the analysis Mencken provides, is that of the pronoun. Already a linguistic shortcut, it becomes the subject of even more reductionist changes. Analyze this tendency in an essay, which thoroughly explicates the modern American pronoun. What is the function of the pronoun? For what does it serve as a substitute? What are its relationships with other parts of speech? How do these various elements tend towards the elision of pronouns with other parts of speech? What is significant about this tendency to elide pronouns?
Essay Topic 2
Mencken claims that the true American spirit is to be found not in the textbooks or proclamations of grammarians, but in the vulgar speech of the common people. Discuss this claim in a thoughtful analytical essay. What is the American spirit? Does Mencken clearly present what the American spirit is? Is his a defensible claim? How does the vulgar speech of the common person reflect this spirit? Is there some danger of degradation in linguistic form from prevalence of the vulgar speech? How does the vulgar speech reflect upon the American as a human person?
Essay Topic 3
An implicit premise throughout Mencken's work is that of the influence the overall national character and spirit has on the formation of a language. Write an essay discussing and analyzing the possibility and evidence of this connection. What are the national characters of Americans and Englishmen? How is this shown in their languages? What influence do these character traits have on linguistic formulations and habits of the people? What are some specific examples by which this influence can be seen? What is the ultimate significance of this connection?
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