by Cleanth Brooks; University of Georgia Press; 58 pages; $9.95.
American speech arrived with the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English settlers who emigrated to the New World, Cleanth Brooks argues in three wise and charming essays gathered into this small book. Since then the mother tongue has evolved much more than the daughter tongue. This is most noticeable in the American South, where people at every education level cling tenaciously to their local pronunciations and rhythms of speech. Perhaps most astonishing is Brooks’s conviction that black Southern speech also, or even especially, is derived from early English locutions rather than from African ones. Citing examples from writings as various as Uncle Remus and the work of Flannery O’Connor, Brooks demonstrates the vitality and particularity of this old British-based Southern language. These essays were originally delivered as lectures at Mercer University in Georgia.