Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Dean's English

In 1863 the Very Rev. Henry Alford, DD, dean of Canterbury, wrote a "Plea for the Queen's English" which decried the "deterioration" of English in American mouths. It warned Englishmen to hold aloof from the American way with the language and compared the state of English in America to "the character and history of the nation":

--its blunted sense of moral obligations and duties to man; its open disregard of conventional right when aggrandizement is to be obtained; and I may now say, its reckless and fruitless maintenance of the most cruel and unprincipled war in the history of the world.

It was the familiar list of crimes and vices and hypocrisies. Every learned Englishman could rehearse it and many of the finest writers, such as Coleridge and Sidney Smith, bent their considerable talents to spelling it out at length. Except that, coming in the middle of the American Civil War, Alford's screed had gone out of its way to replace a now-doubtful entry in the catalogue of American vice with a freshly minted one. Never mind that the substitution was blatant hypocrisy. As H.L. Mencken noted,

Smith had denounced slavery, whereas Alford, by a tremendous feat of moral virtuosity, was now denouncing the war to put it down.

It was the universal sneer of the Educated European -- one of the things that marked Lord Byron as a dangerous radical was that he actually liked America and Americans, and said so -- but the British took particular pains to say it loud and often, to make it clear that the claim that the United States was an outpost of Anglo-Saxon civilization and a child of Britain was not acknowledged as legitimate in the Mother Country.

Long before 9/11. long before Israel existed, long before the world wars, before America was any kind of player on the world stage, this was the regard European intellectuals had for it. Has the left stopped talking about "squandering the good will of the world" yet? Or is it necessary to remind it still that the three weeks or so in September 2001 were the doomed aberation in two centuries of European attitudes.

Americans gave it back, in the long war over the English language. An American named G. Washington Moon responded to Dean Alford's snobby plea for the Queen's English with "The Dean's English," in which he pointed out Alford himself was guilty, in his writings, of many of the faults he ascribed to American authors.

The language war raged and still rages. The British rarely give ground. Even when they admit an American expression is better than its British counterpart -- sidewalk over pavement was an oft-cited example -- they see no reason to admit the "foreign" word. For the core of their argument was racist and ethnic, not linguistic. Articles in Britain on American speech invariably make reference to "their huge hybrid population of which only a small minority are even racially Anglo-Saxons" [New Statesman, 1927] and the sad fate of American English, "imposed upon and influenced by a host of immigrants from all the nations of Europe" [Times].

So the Times wrote, but the times have changed. And here is Europe today, led by the descendants of these academic aristocracies, still tangled up in the contradiction of its prejudices. It now has admitted, under force of economics and post-imperialist guilt, a large alien population into its nations, but not into its souls. It claims to be taking the opposite path of American assimilation -- if the Americans do it it must be bad -- and claims to be on the more enlightened path of respecting the immigrant culture.

But this "respect" is accomplished by subsidizing the immigrant culture in its alien ways and ghettoizing it. The European intelligensia often maintains that the other culture is equal to or superior to the native one -- Do they practice honor killings? well, until recently Europeans were so barbaric as to execute criminals! Who are we to condemn them? -- while it quietly draws an invisible wall around the European societies to prevent the assimilation of the darker skins, and the pollution that might bring.

The result is, there are vast no-go areas for the local police in some European cities, where Shari'a rule is effectively enforced by imams, and third-generation immigrant children who have lived in European capitals all their lives can barely speak a sentence of the native language.

But that can't possibly be racist. Only Americans are racists.