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Did Americans in 1776 have British accents? (Suprising answer)
Nick Patrick blog via Fark.com ^ | 10/09/2010 | Nick Patrick

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.

Did Americans in 1776 have British accents?

Reading David McCullough’s 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.

I’d 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 hadn’t yet diverged. That’s not too surprising.

What’s surprising, though, is that those accents were much closer to today’s American accents than to today’s British accents. While both have changed over time, it’s actually British accents that have changed much more drastically since then.

First, let’s 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 region’s British connections in the post-Revolutionary War era. Irish and Scottish accents are still rhotic.

If you’d like to learn more, this passage in The Cambridge History of the English Language is a good place to start.

Sources:
■American English, Rhotic and non-rhotic accents, Received Pronunciation - Wikipedia
■The Cambridge History of the English Language - Google Books


TOPICS: History; Society
KEYWORDS: dialect; english; godsgravesglyphs; language; linguistics
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To: miss marmelstein

Are you Miss MarmelSTEEN or MarmelSHTEIN?


101 posted on 10/09/2010 10:26:52 AM PDT by WilliamTells
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To: IYellAtMyTV

Rrrrrrrrrrrrr


102 posted on 10/09/2010 10:26:58 AM PDT by dr_lew
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To: prisoner6

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.


103 posted on 10/09/2010 10:28:33 AM PDT by djf (It is ISLAM or "We, the People..." Take your pick. THERE IS NO MIDDLE GROUND!!!)
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To: FrankR
Bravo! Well, except for the fact that your misspelled grammar...
104 posted on 10/09/2010 10:31:25 AM PDT by FourPeas (Pester not the geek, for the electrons are his friends.)
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To: Earthdweller

Those are dipthongs ~


105 posted on 10/09/2010 10:31:31 AM PDT by muawiyah ("GIT OUT THE WAY" The Republicans are coming)
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To: muawiyah

That word’s always brought such an interesting picture to mind...


106 posted on 10/09/2010 10:33:38 AM PDT by FourPeas (Pester not the geek, for the electrons are his friends.)
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To: oldsalt
The funny thing is that I can't think of an American actor who can do a convincing British accent...go figure.

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.

107 posted on 10/09/2010 10:34:14 AM PDT by dr_lew
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To: prisoner6

108 posted on 10/09/2010 10:34:24 AM PDT by BunnySlippers (I love BULL MARKETS . . .)
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To: FourPeas

Of course I did, wanted to see if you were awake...that’s all.


109 posted on 10/09/2010 10:35:08 AM PDT by FrankR (You are only obligated to obama to the extent you accept his handouts.)
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To: white17x

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!


110 posted on 10/09/2010 10:36:09 AM PDT by John S Mosby (Sic Semper Tyrannis)
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To: sinsofsolarempirefan

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.


111 posted on 10/09/2010 10:42:47 AM PDT by miss marmelstein
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To: celtic gal

There’s a proud academic tradition of anglicizing the pronunciation of Latin words.


112 posted on 10/09/2010 10:47:04 AM PDT by firebrand
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To: Pharmboy; nickcarraway; StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; 1010RD; 21twelve; 24Karet; ...

· GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother, and Ernest_at_the_Beach ·
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Thanks prisoner6.
The typical English accent didn't develop until after the Revolutionary War, so Americans actually speak proper English. Here comes the science.
Just you wait, 'enry 'iggins, just you wait. To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.
 

· History topic · history keyword · archaeology keyword · paleontology keyword ·
· Science topic · science keyword · Books/Literature topic · pages keyword ·


113 posted on 10/09/2010 10:47:32 AM PDT by SunkenCiv (The 2nd Amendment follows right behind the 1st because some people are hard of hearing.)
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To: prisoner6
Just as modern Icelandic is much closer to Old Norse than modern Norwegian is.
114 posted on 10/09/2010 10:57:21 AM PDT by Lonesome in Massachussets (Go Tampa Bay Rays! (And send Carl Crawford to Boston after you take the Series!))
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To: miss marmelstein
“Soldier letters home actually spoke with southern accents. Fascinating!!”

One of my favorite written accounts from the time is,
DIARY OF A TAR HEEL CONFEDERATE SOLDIER.

http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/leon/leon.html

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.

115 posted on 10/09/2010 11:18:29 AM PDT by NavyCanDo
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To: cripplecreek

“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”.


116 posted on 10/09/2010 11:23:01 AM PDT by BnBlFlag (Deo Vindice/Semper Fidelis "Ya gotta saddle up your boys; Ya gotta draw a hard line")
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To: JimRed

“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.


117 posted on 10/09/2010 11:24:03 AM PDT by NavyCanDo
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To: glorgau
Pirates must be rhotic speakers.

Whereas, southerners must not be. ;-)

118 posted on 10/09/2010 11:43:01 AM PDT by Allegra (Flank steak is very lean.)
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To: prisoner6

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.


119 posted on 10/09/2010 11:53:22 AM PDT by mass55th (Courage is being scared to death - but saddling up anyway...John Wayne)
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To: mass55th

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.


120 posted on 10/09/2010 11:58:29 AM PDT by miss marmelstein
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To: prisoner6

later read ping


121 posted on 10/09/2010 12:01:05 PM PDT by Citizen Soldier ("You care far too much what is written and said about you." Axelrod to Obama 2006)
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To: NavyCanDo

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.


122 posted on 10/09/2010 12:03:06 PM PDT by miss marmelstein
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To: Vinnie

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.


123 posted on 10/09/2010 12:06:13 PM PDT by Citizen Soldier ("You care far too much what is written and said about you." Axelrod to Obama 2006)
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To: John S Mosby

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!”


124 posted on 10/09/2010 12:07:23 PM PDT by miss marmelstein
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To: muawiyah
I have always warshed my squarsh.

Trace from Germans in Red River Valley of MN.

125 posted on 10/09/2010 12:09:14 PM PDT by Battle Axe (Repent, for the coming of the Lord is nigh.)
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To: JimRed

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?”

“Yes.”

“I did not understad a word that either of you were speaking!”


126 posted on 10/09/2010 12:11:09 PM PDT by BwanaNdege ("a comeuppance is due the arrogant elites" - Charles Krauthammer)
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To: mass55th
My brother was pursuing a Masters in English, no he doesn't live in Ma's Basement, and he had to write a paper on the Eastern Reagonal Dialect for a Linguistics Class.

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.

127 posted on 10/09/2010 12:15:34 PM PDT by Little Bill (Harry Browne is a Poofter.)
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To: cripplecreek
Something like 7 generations seperated them from Britain. As I understand it, the colonists were considerably taller than the brits as well.

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.

128 posted on 10/09/2010 12:21:43 PM PDT by Harmless Teddy Bear (The Doctrine of Nachofication: The belief that everything tastes better with melted cheese.)
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To: Vigilanteman; glorgau
Pirates aspired to be from the upper crust of England. A few even were. ... So Bawney Fronk would've been Barney Frank had he been born in Iowa,...

Well Bawney might not be a pirate, but he is an "Admiral of the Windward Passage"*... /g (*obscure 17th century insult reference)

129 posted on 10/09/2010 12:24:54 PM PDT by tarheelswamprat
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To: Vigilanteman; glorgau
Pirates aspired to be from the upper crust of England. A few even were. ... So Bawney Fronk would've been Barney Frank had he been born in Iowa,...

Well Bawney might not be a pirate, but he is an "Admiral of the Windward Passage"*... /g

*(obscure 18th century insult reference)

130 posted on 10/09/2010 12:25:57 PM PDT by tarheelswamprat
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To: muawiyah
"Those are dipthongs ~"

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.

131 posted on 10/09/2010 12:27:59 PM PDT by Earthdweller (Harvard won the election again...so what's the problem.......? Embrace a ruler today.)
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To: driftless2; oldsalt

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


132 posted on 10/09/2010 12:38:45 PM PDT by tarheelswamprat
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To: FrankR

Frank ole buddy, I was just joshing with ya. I really did agree with your post.


133 posted on 10/09/2010 12:40:57 PM PDT by mc5cents
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To: JimRed; prisoner6
And we have the recordings to prove it???

Nixon destroyed those, then realized to his horror he had screwed up... /g

134 posted on 10/09/2010 12:41:22 PM PDT by tarheelswamprat
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To: bgill
Cross state lines, or for that matter from inner city to suburbs, and you're listening to a different accent.

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.

135 posted on 10/09/2010 1:18:07 PM PDT by Andyman (The truth shall make you FReep.)
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To: FrankR

Lighten up, Francis!

Can’t you tell he was just joking with you? Didn’t you see the smiley?


136 posted on 10/09/2010 1:28:05 PM PDT by Alas Babylon!
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To: Harmless Teddy Bear
The two very large but largely ignored groups were the Scandinavians and the Germans ~ breeding like bunnies they were pushing the frontier to its limits.

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!

137 posted on 10/09/2010 2:08:21 PM PDT by muawiyah ("GIT OUT THE WAY" The Republicans are coming)
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To: prisoner6

Just go get some of the old recordings from Ancient Amazon and listen. How do they know what any accent sounded like in 1776?


138 posted on 10/09/2010 2:11:36 PM PDT by ThanhPhero (di tray hoi den La Vang)
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To: JohnG45

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.


139 posted on 10/09/2010 2:18:43 PM PDT by muawiyah ("GIT OUT THE WAY" The Republicans are coming)
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To: bboop
They are pretty rhotic in Northumberland

My part of the world......yes, we are rather guttural.

Makes it easy to speak German - should one be so inclined!

140 posted on 10/09/2010 2:20:09 PM PDT by Churchillspirit (9/11/01...NEVER FORGET.)
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To: BnBlFlag
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.

True. I grew up in Dallas but moved out when I was a teen. I went back about 15 years later and came to a complete stop in a North Dallas shopping center and just stood there listening to people speak. It was like another country rather than a city I had grown up in. Freaky! Another example was my college roommate. She and I had similar accents in college - hers from Ft. Worth and mine not so long out of Dallas and then with recent influences from hicksville. I visited her a few years later in Houston and she was speaking more big city uppity.

141 posted on 10/09/2010 2:26:07 PM PDT by bgill (K Parliament- how could a young man born in Kenya who is not even a native American become the POTUS)
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To: BnBlFlag

The loss of the Southron accent is most likely due to media trying to have everyone sound like they are midwest (not Chicaaago) and the prejudicial assumption that if “y’all tawk like ‘at” you must be stupid, racist... any number of things. But when you hear a valley, or mall accent— to a southerner they sound extremely stupid, airheaded...”y’know”?


142 posted on 10/09/2010 3:03:48 PM PDT by John S Mosby (Sic Semper Tyrannis)
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To: miss marmelstein

I think they intend him to be Cockney. Word forms like
“innit?” are definitely cockney. Then phrases like “wha’ ever else streyeks yor fancy” But you’re right they do like to confuse aussies accents with cockney. The East Enders show helped to keep it alive. See my other post with a link to the Fast Show “We’re Cockneys” pretty funny stuff there.
Liked your comment about old letters, true in our family— if we read them as they’re written with our current accent it gives a pretty good rendition.


143 posted on 10/09/2010 3:16:10 PM PDT by John S Mosby (Sic Semper Tyrannis)
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To: tarheelswamprat
"more natural"

Tell that to my wife. We have occasional pronunciation or mispronunciation battles if you prefer. She'll sneer at some of my American pronunciations, and I get back by asking who put all those extra consonants and vowels in words that don't need them. Nobody really wins.

144 posted on 10/09/2010 3:30:16 PM PDT by driftless2 (For long-term happiness, learn how to play the accordion.)
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To: Citizen Soldier

Thanks


145 posted on 10/09/2010 3:38:11 PM PDT by Vinnie (You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Jihads You)
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To: Churchillspirit

It is your part of the world up there? We loved it there. The owners of the B&B were just delightful, as was the Yorkshire Pudding at the local pub. What blew my mind tho - our host looked SO MUCH like my 100% Norwegian grandfather! Could have passed for TWINS. Evidently that area is exactly where the Vikings landed/ one spot, anyway.


146 posted on 10/09/2010 5:24:11 PM PDT by bboop (Stealth Tutor)
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To: dr_who

Because of my accent, or lack thereof, and where I live (DFW), people have always asked me where I was raised. When I ask why, it’s because they think I’m from Ohio. Incidentally, I was born and raised in Arlington, Texas. I have honestly never been to Ohio. However, my paternal grandfather was born and raised in Pennsylvania. He and his heritage is the only Northern, or Yankee, heritage I have. Everyone else, for at least 7 generations is American and from the South.

Maybe I’m rare, but on all sides of my tree, including my paternal grandfather’s line, the immigrant ancestor came to America before The Revolution (and in some cases, long beforehand).


147 posted on 10/09/2010 5:33:40 PM PDT by Peanut Gallery (The essence of freedom is the proper limitation of government.)
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To: cripplecreek; All
I agree.

Sorry I couldn't keep up with the thread. We are in the process of finishing a move from our house to an apartment and I was...umm...detained.

This article and the discussion is very interesting to me. I have worked in radio, sound and music for over 30 years so perhaps that is the reason.

Is there a connection between the written and spoken word?

Documents from the Revolutionary period appear to be difficult for the average person today to comprehend. However the Founding Fathers wrote these documents (presumably - my take) for the common man.

Did they write as they spoke? If so, and if the language devolved, is it no wonder so many today do not grasp the documents of our foundation?

148 posted on 10/09/2010 6:41:36 PM PDT by prisoner6 (Right Wing Nuts are holding The Constitution together as the Loose Screws of The Left come undone!)
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To: prisoner6

From Washington’s rules of civility.

>>7th Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Drest.<<

Lots of good common language of the day (Not to mention manners we should all aspire to)

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/rules-of-civility-by-george-washington-1744.html


149 posted on 10/09/2010 6:47:44 PM PDT by cripplecreek (Remember the River Raisin! (look it up))
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To: Ghost of Philip Marlowe; SunkenCiv; All

Boston certainly has the soft R sound. Back in revolutionary times almost half the population was German speaking, what influence did this have on our speech? I have been researching a book on the Revolutionary and post revolutionary period. There Scots immigrants were described as having a thick Scottish accent. My source book was printed in 1850 based on a 40 year collection of anecdotes.


150 posted on 10/09/2010 7:30:49 PM PDT by gleeaikin (question authority)
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