You, my reader, may have heard (or perhaps even held) foolish conversations like that; and you will readily perceive that if we didn't say "car" when we spoke of the vehicle you get into when you board a train, but called it a voiture, or something else quite "foreign," the Englishman would not feel that we had taken a sort of liberty with his mother-tongue. A deep point lies here: for most English the world is divided into three peoples, English, foreigners, and Americans; and for most of us likewise it is divided into Americans, foreigners, and Eng- lish. Now a "foreigner" can call molasses whatever he pleases; we do not feel that he has taken any liberty with our mother-tongue; his tongue has a different mother; he can't help that; he's not to be criticized for that. But we and the English speak a tongue that has the same mother. This identity in pedigree has led and still leads to countless family discords. I've not a doubt that divergences in vocabulary and in accent were the fount and origin of some swollen noses, some battered eyes, when our Yankees mixed with the Tommies. Each would be certain to think that the other couldn't "talk straight"--and each would be certain to say so. I shall not here spin out a list of different names for the same things now current in English and American usage: molasses and treacle will suffice for an example; you will be able easily to think of others, and there are many such that occur in everyday speech. Almost more tricky are those words which both peoples use alike, but with different meanings. I shall spin no list of these either; one example there is which I cannot name, of two words constantly used in both countries, each word quite proper in one country, while in the other it is more than improper. Thirty years ago I explained this one evening to a young Englishman who was here for a while. Two or three days later, he thanked me fervently for the warning: it had saved him, during a game of tennis, from a frightful shock, when his partner, a charming girl, meaning to tell him to cheer up, had used the word that is so harmless with us and in England so far beyond the pale of polite society.
Quite as much as words, accent also leads to dissension. I have heard many an American speak of the English accent as "affected"; and our accent displeases the English. Now what Englishman, or what American, ever criticizes a Frenchman for not pronouncing our language as we do? His tongue has a different mother!
I know not how in the course of the years all these divergences should have come about, and none of us need care. There they are. As a matter of fact, both England and America are mottled with varying accents literate and illiterate; equally true it is that each nation has its notion of the other's way of speaking--we're known by our shrill nasal twang, they by their broad vowels and hesitation; and quite as true is it that not all Americans and not all English do in their enunciation conform to these types.
One May afternoon in 1919 I stopped at Salisbury to see that beautiful cathedral and its serene and gracious close. "Star-scattered on the grass," and beneath the noble trees, lay New Zealand soldiers, solitary or in little groups, gazing, drowsing, talking at ease. Later, at the inn I was shown to a small table, where sat already a young Englishman in evening dress, at his dinner. As I sat down opposite him, I bowed, and he returned it. Presently we were talking. When I said that I was stopping expressly to see the cathedral, and how like a trance it was to find a scene so utterly English full of New Zealanders lying all about, he looked puzzled. It was at this, or immediately after this, that I explained to him my nationality.
"I shouldn't have known it," he remarked, after an instant's pause.
I pressed him for his reason, which he gave; somewhat reluctantly, I think, but with excellent good-will. Of course it was the same old mother-tongue!
"You mean," I said, "that I haven't happened to say 'I guess,' and that I don't, perhaps, talk through my nose? But we don't all do that. We do all sorts of things."
He stuck to it. "You talk like us."
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