A wide-ranging account of American English, Richard Bailey’s "Speaking American" investigates the history and continuing evolution of our language from the sixteenth century to the present. When did English become American? What distinctive qualities made it American? What role have America’s democratizing impulses, and its vibrantly heterogeneous speakers, played in shaping our language and separating it from the mother tongue? Bailey asked himself these questions, now it’s time to ask yourself how well you really know your American English. We’ve composed a quiz for some Friday fun. Can you speak American?
Do You Speak American?
How much do you know about America's langage history?
1) What’s “the blab of the pave”?
A description of the talk of Okies and others moving west during the Great Depression, typically used by urbanites in a derogatory way
A popular expression for how young “delinquents” talked in Northern California during the 1950s
Walt Whitman’s description of the way New Yorkers speak
A description of the way cement settles in intense heat used in the South, particularly around New Orleans
2) Which great event determined whether Shakespeare should be performed in American or British English in the US?
American. The Astor Place Riot in New York in 1849, which pitted actor Edwin Forrest (American) against actor William Charles Macready (English).
English. 1823 legislation, for which aristocratic Carolinians educated in England lobbied, that Shakespeare’s plays be performed “in the manner in which they were written.”
American. Competing theaters set each other alight during the Great Chicago Fire, but the Wicker Park neighborhood rallied to save the Liberty Theater, then staging an American English production of Hamlet.
English. Following the introduction of sound in the 1920s, MGM’s British English movie production of Romeo & Juliet out-earned its American English competitors, so all studioes switched to English actors for future Shakespeare productions.
3) Where does the word “buckaroo” come from?
Slang for ranch hands on the American frontier who were initially paid a dollar (“a buck”) to work for a rancher
Name given to young men at the stage of their equine apprenticeship when they would handle young male horses in the Colonial South
Buckra, meaning someone with power or knowledge in the Efik language of West Africa, which passed into American English via Barbados Creole
An invention of screenwriter and dime novelist John Grey for the silent western “Canyon of Fools”
4) What is “bisket”?
A Boston expression for unleavened bread made from flour, salt, and water
A Yiddish expression for dough, sometimes found in New York English
A Chinook expression for a day when it doesn’t rain during the winter months
An alternate spelling of “biscuit” found in rural Alabama and Mississippi
5) In the 1980s, the song “Valley Girl” about the singer’s teenage daughter and her affinity for Valspeak (a word blend of “San Fernando Valley” and “speak”), unintentionally lead to an enormous popularity for this style of English. Which singer composed the song?
6) In the 1960s, California became associated with the New Age movement in spirituality and various ego-centered psychological therapies. These efforts produced which term that became widely known beyond California?
get it together
all of the above
7) Between 1892 and 1928, millions of Europeans entered New York through the immigration facility on Ellis Island. As a result, their cultures (and languages) had an immense impact on the city. Which language was most influential in transforming New York?
8) Which important factor made New Orleans the foundation of English for the Louisiana Purchase?
A high influx of English speakers purchasing cheap territory
Thomas Jefferson deemed English the official language after purchasing it from the French
The introduction of the steamboat in the Mississippi waterway
None of the above
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