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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1841 to 1843 > English Dialects

Indeed with what care he had attended to the nice¬ties of English pronunciation—the great stumbling block of all foreign students of the language—maybe inferred from his familiarity with the peculiar characteristics, even of the provincial dialects. It will be recollected how he had amused Mr. Harford in 1817, by his specimens of the Yorkshire and the Zummersetshire dialects, and how successfully he imitated for Mr. "Walsh the slang of a London cabman. And a still more amusing example of the minuteness of his knowledge of these dialects has been communicated to me by Rev. Mr. Grant of Lytham, brother of my friend the Bishop of Southwark, to whose unfailing kindness I am indebted for this and for many other most interesting particulars regarding the Cardinal. Mr. Grant was presented to his eminence in the Spring of 1841, by the Rev. Father Kelleher, an Irish Carmelite, of which order the Cardinal was Protector. After some preliminaries the conversation turned upon the English language.

You have many patois in the English language,' said the Cardinal. ' For instance, the Lancashire dialect is very different from that spoken by the Cockneys; [he used this word ;—] so much so, that some Londoners would find considerable difficulty in understanding what a Lancashire man said. The Cockneys always use v instead of w, and iv instead of v : so that they say ' vine' instead of 'wine;' [he gave this example.] And then the Irish brogue, as it is called, is another variety. I remember very distinctly having a conversation with an Irish gentleman whom I met soon after the peace, and he always mispronounced that word, calling it 'pace.

Here, F. Kelleher broke out into a horse-laugh, and, slapping his hand upon his thigh, cried out, ' Oh ! excellent! your Eminence, excellent! ' ' Now, there you are wrong,' said Mezzofanti: 'you ought not to say excellent, but Excellent.' Then he went off into a disquisition on the word 'great,' contending that, according to all analogy, it should be pronounced like ' greet'—for that the diphthong ea is so pronounced in almost all, if not in every word, in which it occurs; and he instanced these words :—' eagle, meat, beat, fear* and some others. And he said Lord Chesterfield thought the same, and considered it a vulgarism to pronounce it like 'grate.' He next spoke about the Welsh language—but I really quite forget what he said: I only remember that the impression left on me was that he knew Welsh also.

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