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
later read ping
I’ll hunt the book down. Your examples are wonderful. Have you seen John Huston’s Red Badge of Courage? Although it’s about Union soldiers it’s wonderful to hear Audie Murphy’s soft Texas twang and Bill Mauldon’s accent (not sure where he was from). Lovely movie, like a Brady photograph.
You are speaking of Ocracoke Island residents. They and the people of Manteo also have the old accents that are today unique to the Outer Banks. The outer banks has been invaded by Yankees the last two decades and isn’t like it was when I was growing up. We called it Nags Head, not Outer Banks. It is near impossible to get a t-shirt there now that does not say Outer Banks. There were two great documentaries on the DOC channel on Direct TV recently that interviewed Ocracoke people and then Western North Carolinians about speech patterns and words unique to their area. If you see it again, watch it.
Is that a Cockney accent? It sounds a little Australian to me. One of my closest friends is a Cockney but he sounds nothing like the gecko. On the other hand, my friend is kinda old and his Cockney is much more old-fashioned. Wonderful to hear him say, “Ya dossey cow!”
Trace from Germans in Red River Valley of MN.
My wife is from Rhode Island, I’m from Georgia. If my grandmother had been healthy enough to attend the wedding we would have had to translate if she & my sister-in-law had tried to have a conversation.
After we married and moved to Georgia, while driving out in the country one day I stopped to ask directions from a young black boy. After we finished talking I got back in the car whereupon my wife asked me,
“What language were you speaking?”
“English”, I replied.
“Both of you?”
“I did not understad a word that either of you were speaking!”
If you really listen you can trace the change of accent from the Center of Boston or as a friend of mine used to say Massachusetts ends at Worcester.
And "biscuit" colored (darker of skin) according to the British solders. And more inclined to bath.
Americans were already a mix of British, Dutch, Irish, African and Native American. Not surprising, the people who came over from Great Britain were mostly males. Few of them had the money to order a wife from merry ol' England. They had to find mates among the available females, which meant from the Dutch families if you were high class enough, from transported female convicts (many which were Irish) or from free blacks or a local "Tame Indian".
That was in the cities, out on the frontier your choices were even sparser.
Well Bawney might not be a pirate, but he is an "Admiral of the Windward Passage"*... /g (*obscure 17th century insult reference)
Well Bawney might not be a pirate, but he is an "Admiral of the Windward Passage"*... /g
*(obscure 18th century insult reference)
I see...yes, it is an opening, descending diphthong. And all this time I thought “woah-man” was a southerners unconscious verbal attempt, to to scare off a potential mate.
Nah, it just proves that American pronunciation is the easier, more natural and thus correct version, while RP Brit pronunciation is contrived, unnatural and more difficult, thus incorrect... /grin
Frank ole buddy, I was just joshing with ya. I really did agree with your post.
Nixon destroyed those, then realized to his horror he had screwed up... /g
You hear it, but I bet they don't. I know people from Belfast, Ireland, who swear they can tell the difference in accent from neighborhood to neighborhood and sometimes even street to street. I can tell the difference from parts of Scotland, and different parts of Ireland, but that's about it.
Lighten up, Francis!
Can’t you tell he was just joking with you? Didn’t you see the smiley?
But you had to go out there to find them.
Then there was the Collins family. They had so many girls (in Kentucky, et al ~ dozens actually) some of them were married off to Oneida Indian warriors ~ who were probably white guys anyway.
Anyone finding a Collins in their ancestry out on the frontier should check out the Collins-Ritchy book. That will save you thousands of hours of fruitless wandering in the genealogical records. Most of that stuff is here!
Just go get some of the old recordings from Ancient Amazon and listen. How do they know what any accent sounded like in 1776?
I put on my very best Hindu accent and flip them right back to their “naaatiiiive” best they left school with. Lots of fun. BTW, all the kids around here can do the Hindu/Pak schtick, and probably most of them understand both spoken Korean and Spanish.
My part of the world......yes, we are rather guttural.
Makes it easy to speak German - should one be so inclined!