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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

V. Dialect Writers

§ 17. The Possibility of a Compromise Dialect in the Middle West

An analogy may be noted, by way of retrospect, between the three dialects of Chaucer’s time and the three that, with many modifications, have survived in the United States. The Northern or Northumbrian dialect was spoken north of the Humber, the Midland between the Humber and Thames, and the Southern south of the Thames. The Midland gained the supremacy largely because it was a compromise between the other two. The situation a century ago in the United States was not dissimilar. New England, with Massachusetts as the speech centre, may be likened to Northumbria not only in relative position but in a corresponding preference for certain austerities of pronunciation. The South, with Virginia as the speech centre, differed from New England in pronunciation not as widely but in much the same way as Southern England differed from Northern England. The Middle States, with New York as the speech centre, was, like Midland England, intermediate in speech habits as well as in geographical position. Even today if a Bostonian and a Tidewater Virginian were to visit New York City for the first time they would observe less that would be arrestive in speech, barring foreign elements, than the Bostonian would find in Richmond or the Virginian in Boston. That New York, therefore, in spite of its unparalleled growth in population, has not influenced the dialect of the West as have New England and the South, is due partly to the lack of dialectal distinction in the speech of New York and partly to the more migratory habits of New Englanders and Southerners. If “in the Mississippi Valley and in the Trans-Missouri country a normal American speech free of local idiosyncrasies will first appear,” as seems not unlikely, a compromise English dialect will have won its second and greatest victory.