Lance Schachterle, "James Fenimore Cooper on the Languages of the Americans: A Note on the Author's Footnotes" (pp. 37–68)

James Fenimore Cooper scattered observations about the formation of a distinctive American language throughout such social analyses as Notions of the Americans (1828), Gleanings from Europe: England (1837) and The American Democrat (1838), arguing the need for Americans to establish mental independence from England in matters of language as well as politics and social structure. And many of the footnotes he added to his novels reinforce this message. "Twenty millions of people not only can make a word, but they can make a language, if it be needed," Cooper wrote in a burst of enthusiasm at the end of a footnote justifying Americanisms in his novel Satanstoe (1845). In this essay I investigate these authorial footnotes for evidence of words that Cooper defended as Americanisms necessary to comprehend the new topography and life-forms that Europeans were finding in the New World. Cooper found such words not only among older usages in English, but also in French, Dutch, and especially Native American adoptions—and even in some neologisms of his own. Unlike Charles Brockden Brown and John Adams, Cooper never advocated for a select elite like an academy to oversee the formation of the American language. The best practices among people like himself, "educated gentlemen of the middle states"—not the nasal tones and artificial rules of New Englanders like Noah Webster—would regulate the amelioration of American english. But he realized in the end that "the twenty millions…can make a language"; as he observed in Notions of the Americans, "when words once get fairly into use, their triumph affords a sufficient evidence of merit to entitle them to patronage."

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