The rise of the United States as a world power in the course of the twentieth century paralleled a remarkable phenomenon in cultural history - the spread of American English with its own distinctively rich idioms and vocabulary. From the end of the First World War onwards scholars, journalists and commentators in the United States discovered a new appreciation for the vigorously American use of English, and in the inter-war years colloquial American language became increasingly dominant in novels and films.  But behind this development there was a striking anxiety among educated Americans about the correct use of English, and this self-consciousness was at odds with linguistic science which was moving away from language-as-rule and toward language-as-spoken.

These tensions came to a head in 1961 when the publishers Merriam-Webster, in their press release in advance of the publication of Webster's Third Unabridged Dictionary, defined 'ain't' as a contraction which was used orally in most parts of the US by cultivated speakers. Many Americans gasped. How could ain't be 'cultivated'?

The ensuing controversy is the subject of David Skinner's book The Story of Ain't. In his talk he will discuss the way in which the debate about correct language continues to shape American culture.

The discussion will be chaired by author and historian, Hywel Williams, and moderated by the Legatum Institute's President and CEO, Jeffrey Gedmin.

About the Salon Series

In its Salon Series the Legatum Institute hosts scholars, writers, artists and public figures to discuss issues that are fundamental to the success of free, prosperous, and enterprising societies. Ranging widely across the arts, sciences and humanities, the conversations promote a discourse between cultural, philosophical, economic and political modes of enquiry.

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