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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: September 2009

4 - The emergence of American English: evidence from seventeenth-century records in New England


Introductory remarks

Early explorers and fishermen provided the beginnings of not one monolithic American English but a multitude of American Englishes, to cite an appropriate term used by Mufwene in his influential 1996 article. Many of the studies in this volume (e.g. Montgomery, Schneider, Wolfram and Schilling-Estes, Wright) contribute to our understanding of the variation and subsequent development of the English language that was transported to the North American colonies from the early 1600s. In discussions of extraterritorial varieties, attention has been paid to factors promoting and/or retarding change. These factors pertain to language change in general, but the new regional and sociodemographic environment of an emerging variety, and constant changes in it, may further intensify the tension between linguistic conservatism and innovation. Two main directions of development have been distinguished, in terms of regional and/or social variation, i.e. unification and diversification (see e.g. Marckwardt 1958; Görlach 1987). Moreover, various levelling phenomena tend to characterise situations where a dialect mixture is found (e.g. Trudgill 1986). Considering the dynamic interplay of the factors that must have influenced the settlers' speech habits, the documents preserved to us from the early colonies should provide fascinating material for the study of language change.

The present chapter aims at throwing light on the language of settlers and their descendants in the New England area over the first formative century of the colonies there, from the early 1600s to the early 1700s.