H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
rules habitually violatedthat the one aim of teaching grammar was to correct the speech of the pupils, and that it was useless to harass them with principles which they already instinctively observed. Apparently inclining to this somewhat dubious notion, Dr. Charters applied to the School Board of Kansas City for permission to undertake an examination of the language actually used by the children in the elementary schools of that city, and this permission was granted. The materials thereupon gathered were of two classes. First, the teachers of grades III to VII inclusive in all the Kansas City public schools were instructed to turn over to Dr. Charters all the written work of their pupils, ordinarily done in the regular order of school work during a period of four weeks. Secondly, the teachers of grades II to VII inclusive were instructed to make note of all oral errors in grammar made in the school-rooms and around the schoolbuildings during the five school-days of one week, by children of any age, and to dispatch these notes to Dr. Charters also. The result was an accumulation of material so huge that it was unworkable with the means at hand, and so the investigator and his assistants reduced it. Of the oral reports, two studies were made, the first of those from grades III and VII and the second of those from grades VI and VII. Of the written reports, only those from grades VI and VII of twelve typical schools were examined.
The ages thus covered ran from nine or ten to fourteen or fifteen, and perhaps five-sixths of the material studied came from children above twelve. Its examination threw a brilliant light upon the speech actually employed by children near the end of their schooling in a typical American city, and per corollary, upon the speech employed by their parents and other older associates. If anything, the grammatical and syntactical habits revealed were a bit less loose than those of the authentic Volkssprache, for practically all of the written evidence was gathered under conditions which naturally caused the writers to try to write what they conceived to be correct English, and even the oral evidence was conditioned by the admonitory presence of the teacher. Moreover, it must be obvious that a child of the lower classes, during the period of its actual study of grammar, probably speaks better English than at any time before or afterward, for it is only then that any positive pressure is exerted