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
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.
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”?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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)
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.
I got the impression that the DFW part of Texas was essentially the midwest.
I do love the word swimps and use it instead of shrimp...
I grew up hearing my mother say “srimp” instead of “shrimp”. Don’t have a clue where that came from but it grated on my ears.
For the most part, our small town and country kids are retaining theirs at least for now.
Oh, it will remain. My cousins and I are Texans and way middle-aged, yet we still say “ya’ll” and speak Texan, as do their kids. My latest Southern drawl special was “he’s a “aawlcaholic” speaking of another cousin. Love the drawl!
However, just as you stated, you hardly hear an American emulate a British accent correctly. Usually the poor attempt of the British accent has the improper soft "a" sound being used in words like "pants" (trousers) (it's pronounced the same way in most of the UK as it is in America -- you don't say "pahnts" in the UK).
Remember there are two distinct kind of Latin pronunciation. The one you’ve been discussing is Medeival, or ‘Church’ Latin. pronounced rather like Italian. The older is Classical Latin, as used by politicians at the end of the Republic. It that kind of Latin Caesar is pronounced much like ‘Kaisar’ in German, hard ‘C’. Medeival Latin pronounces Caesar as in ‘Caesare Borgia’, with a ‘ch’ sound for ‘c’. I do not know where the English soft ‘c’ as in Julius Caesar came from.
‘Shakespeares pronunciation would have been quite different from ours. At about the time of Shakespeare, the Great Vowel Shift occurred in a remarkably short time span (maybe 50 years) in which the pronunciation of vowels changed markedly. Hamlets soliliquy (sic) would have opened something like Toe bay or not toe bay.’
Of course in the two centuries between Chaucer and Shakespeare English went from Middle English to (early) Modern English. The Canterbury Tales are completely unintelligible to modern speakers of English.
To me Shaw the playwright was admirable, while Shaw the thinker was not.
“Have you seen John Hustons Red Badge of Courage?”
Oh yea, the movie and the book. Another great Civil War movie that few even know about was The Colt (2005)
A clip from the movie
“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!”
Yeah. The DFW area has been subjected to the same thing as Houston. The huge influx of Yankees in the mid to late 70’s had an awful lot to do with it. Prior to that most of our newcomers were from other Gulf Coast states and Arkansas and Oklahoma.
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