Date: Tue, 29 Jul 1997 09:57:51 -0400

From: Allan Metcalf AAllan[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM

Subject: An anniversary

Although Barry Popik mentioned it earlier, we've let a demi-millennial

anniversary slip by without mention on this list. Before the month is over,

here's a statement about it, taken from the forthcoming book

_America in So Many Words_ by David K. Barnhart and Allan A. Metcalf, to be

published by Houghton Mifflin this November:

The story of the English language in North America begins almost exactly

500 years ago, on July 24, 1497. At about 5 a.m. that Midsummer Day, Captain

John Cabot, along with some of the 18-member crew of his ship Mathew, set

foot on the eastern coast of what we now call Canada, speaking the first

words of English ever heard on this side of the Atlantic.

Modern historians do not know where they landed that first time. Most

likely it was present-day Newfoundland; Cabot's own happy notion was that

they had reached Asia. For our story, his mistake doesn't matter. What does

matter is that they had come from the port of Bristol in England and thus

spoke English. (Cabot himself was Italian, but like Columbus he had taken up

residence in another country to further his maritime projects.)

As it happens, the voyage of the Mathew had no influence whatsoever on the

later development of American English. Cabot and his men saw signs of human

habitation: traps, fish nets, and a painted stick. But they met nobody, so

they did not learn any native words to import into English. Nor did they stay

to start an English-speaking settlement. They soon got back on board their

little ship, looked at a few more islands from a safe distance, and then

returned in high spirits to Bristol on August 6, confident that they had

found a short way to Asia.

That set the pattern for the next century. The English found North America

a nice place to visit, but they didn't want to live there. . . .