Academics experienced some of the same accusations of disloyalty and mistrust as Mencken during World War I, which led to the firing of faculty members for treasonous teachings. It was in this embattled and uncertain context that the literary canon of “American literature” and the field of linguistics as the scientific study of language were constituted. Professors of English noted that one of their most evident methods of demonstrating national loyalty as a profession was to highlight their expertise in the study of what was presumed by many to be the national language. Like Mencken, they sought to capitalize on the growing fascination with U.S. English and the governmental interest in legitimating the existence of an undeclared national language. This chapter situates the new methodology of linguistics in the 1920s in this postwar environment. Linguists participated in the larger historical trends of interwar language institutionalization, and the field of study was constituted in relation to the language politics of the day both in terms of its existence as an academic field and its coalescing methodologies.
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