Segments in this Video

Political Revolutionaries: Language Revolutionaries (04:52)


The end of the Revolutionary War marks the point where British and Americans began to be divided by their common language. Jefferson, Payne, Adams, Franklin, and Webster championed new words, or "Americanisms" and new spellings.

Canadian English (06:03)

Canadian English resulted when Tory loyalists escaped to Canada. Later, the War of 1812 cemented the separate identity of English Canada. A linguist demonstrates some of the peculiarities of Canadian English.

Jargon of American River Society (06:39)

Americans moved westward on her rivers, carrying river jargon into the new territories. Riverboat gamblers contributed many words to the growing American lexicon, such as "square deal," "you bet," "pass the buck," and "stack the deck."

American Lexicon: Words from The Rockies and the Gold Rush (05:17)

From the Rockies, home of the solitary mountain men, explorers, and traders, words such as "bucks" (money) entered the American lexicon. In 1849, the Gold Rush contributed words such as "gold fever," "pan out," and "pay dirt."

Language of the Old West: Spanish and Native American Influence (04:58)

Spanish heavily influenced America’s cowboy English, adding words such as "ranch" and "corral." Native Americans contributed many colorful words and phrases to American English.

Transcontinental Railroad: New Horizons for American English (05:48)

A mass leveling of English took place in the land west of the Appalachians. After the Civil War, Americans united to build a cross-country railroad in 1869, resulting in a new frontier of American English.

Mark Twain's Influence on American English (02:16)

Mark Twain took spoken English and used it in American literature, transforming written English by writing down its vernacular.

Italian Influence on American English (04:34)

New York City's lower east side with its massive numbers of non-English speaking immigrants contributed to great change in American English. Italians added many food words, and many Italians remain bilingual today.

German Influence on American English (03:22)

Until 1914, German was the second language of America. Germans brought many new words and notable brand names such as Westinghouse and Heinz. Viewers visit a German sausage-making company where workers still speak German.

Jewish/Yiddish Influence on American English (05:54)

English today has incorporated over 300 Yiddish words. Early radio offered a platform for many Jewish comedians—humor still written into gag lines of contemporary comedy. Irony is the essence of Yiddish humor.

WWI and H.L. Mencken Influence the American Lexicon (04:09)

Many war terms entered the English language when the soldiers returned from WWI. H.L. Mencken’s 1921 classic was written to clarify the discrepancies between British and American English and to define the distinguishing characteristics of American English.

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Pioneers! O Pioneers!

Part of the Series : The Story of English
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $149.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $224.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $149.95



Both westward expansion and 19th-century immigration affected the development of a uniquely American English. This classic PBS program tells the story of that burgeoning dialect, from the Revolutionary War to the 1920s. Beginning with the Declaration of Independence, the program depicts the determination of American radicals—dictionary author Noah Webster among them—to achieve linguistic as well as political separation. While the urban, immigrant-laden Northeast is rightly viewed as a linguistic pressure cooker, the western frontier is portrayed as no less dynamic—thanks to fur traders, riverboat pilots, gold miners, Spanish-speaking cowboys, Native Americans, and the railroad. (59 minutes)

Length: 59 minutes

Item#: BVL36928

ISBN: 978-1-4213-6092-8

Copyright date: ©1986

Closed Captioned

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Only available in USA and Canada.