Skip to comments.Did Americans in 1776 have British accents? (Suprising answer)
Posted on 10/09/2010 8:08:47 AM PDT by prisoner6
The typical English accent didn't develop until after the Revolutionary War, so Americans actually speak proper English. Here comes the science.
Reading David McCulloughs 1776, I found myself wondering: Did Americans in 1776 have British accents? If so, when did American accents diverge from British accents?
The answer surprised me.
Id always assumed that Americans used to have British accents, and that American accents diverged after the Revolutionary War, while British accents remained more or less the same.
Americans in 1776 did have British accents in that American accents and British accents hadnt yet diverged. Thats not too surprising.
Whats surprising, though, is that those accents were much closer to todays American accents than to todays British accents. While both have changed over time, its actually British accents that have changed much more drastically since then.
First, lets be clear: the terms British accent and American accent are oversimplifications; there were, and still are, many constantly-evolving regional British and American accents. What many Americans think of as the British accent is the standardized Received Pronunciation, also known as BBC English.
The biggest difference between most American and most British accents is rhotacism. While most American accents are rhotic, the standard British accent is non-rhotic. (Rhotic speakers pronounce the R sound in the word hard. Non-rhotic speakers do not.)
So, what happened?
In 1776, both American accents and British accents were largely rhotic. It was around this time that non-rhotic speech took off in southern England, especially among the upper class. This prestige non-rhotic speech was standardized, and has been spreading in Britain ever since.
Most American accents, however, remained rhotic.
There are a few fascinating exceptions: New York and Boston accents became non-rhotic, perhaps because of the regions British connections in the post-Revolutionary War era. Irish and Scottish accents are still rhotic.
If youd like to learn more, this passage in The Cambridge History of the English Language is a good place to start.
■American English, Rhotic and non-rhotic accents, Received Pronunciation - Wikipedia
■The Cambridge History of the English Language - Google Books
Are you Miss MarmelSTEEN or MarmelSHTEIN?
The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.
Proof that if you’re ugly and live in Spain, you’re also wet I guess.
Those are dipthongs ~
That word’s always brought such an interesting picture to mind...
American english is dominated by the schwa, as in "Whudduhyuh gunnuh do?" It's leveled out, dulled, compared to British english, and hence easier to fall into.
... just a theory.
Of course I did, wanted to see if you were awake...that’s all.
Right! And someone please explain a gecko with a cockney like accent somehow lending credence to an insurance co. hustler. Makes me want to run the other way, crikey!
C and cc always confuse me in Italian - I never know hard from soft, I always get it wrong. That being said, I stand by my castigation of Brits awful torturing of foreign words into English words. This is not about MISPRONUNCIATION. It is about strategically mangling the language. It’s pure British xenophobia.
There’s a proud academic tradition of anglicizing the pronunciation of Latin words.
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One of my favorite written accounts from the time is,
DIARY OF A TAR HEEL CONFEDERATE SOLDIER.
Even though the author was a Jewish kid living in North Carolina, with parents in New York, you can still get a sense of a Southern Accents in his written words.
Here are a few entries as a sample. The whole diary is great reading. Diaries like this were very rare from regular soldiers in the South.
December 3 - Katz and myself went to Petersburg to-day. We met with friends, and the consequence you can imagine. The headache we had next day was caused by too much whiskey.
December 21 - I went to the creek to wash my clothing and myself, and when I got back the water had frozen on my head so that I was obliged to hold my head by the fire so as to thaw it out. Wortheim’s eyes are so bad that he can hardly see. Sam Wilson broke his shoulder blade.
December 25. - There is nothing new up to to-day, Christmas. We moved our camp a little piece. Eigenbrun came to see us to-day from home, and brought me a splendid cake from Miss Clara Phile. This is certainly a hard Christmas for us - bitter cold, raining and snowing all the time, and we have no tents. The only shelter we have is a blanket spread over a few poles, and gather leaves and put them in that shelter for a bed.
“I think various American accents are converging to some extent. The southern accent seems to be merging with the midwestern accent in my area.”
I hate to say it but I have to agree with you, at least to a certain extent. In the big Texas cities, most of the kids are losing their regional accents and are sounding like someone from the upper midwest. For the most part, our small town and country kids are retaining theirs at least for now.
My little 5 and 6 yo grandsons have good Southern accents but we live just east of the Houston area in the far exurbs. My 7 yo granddaughter who lives in the city, not so much, but her accent is still not totally “Yankeefied”.
“And we have the recordings to prove it???”
Better. We have at least one person old enough to tell us in person, but don’t expect Helen Thomas to jump on FR to chime in.
Whereas, southerners must not be. ;-)
I watched a program a while back that I had found on a UK torrent site. It was about captured British soldiers during WWI. German doctors had recorded their voices in what was a study on culture and regional language differences. The producers of this program decided to try to locate relatives of some of these men and compare the language from then and now. Most relatives were still living in the area their WWI ancestor had been from. They played the recordings for the relatives, and asked them if they recognized the pronunciation of some of the words and phrases. In most cases, the pronunciation and use of those same words or phrases differed from the way the present-day family members said them. It was pretty interesting to see how much the language in their region had changed since WWI.
The actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales (Mrs. Fawlty) were so appalled by young British actors not understanding how English was spoken in the 1930s (something you should know if you’re doing Noel Coward!), they created a recording facility where young actors can go and hear voices from the 1920s, 30s, etc. Perhaps even earlier so actors can do Shaw properly (although I realize he’s a dirty word here!) Sounds a little like what you are talking about.