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
Natives of the Outer Banks of North Carolina have a unique accent that sounds Elizabethan.
And they refer to us tourists as ‘off islanders’.
Of course not. It’s all Bush’s fault.
The Pirate alphabet is much simpler....mainly “eye” and “arrgh”.
In 1991, while living in a Chinese City, a geologist from Edinburgh, Scotland visited our home. He had been out in the wilderness with Chinese geologists for some weeks, and was eager just to sit and drink tea with anyone who could speak English. When he heard about us, he ventured to our home.
We were just as delighted to have a visitor, and we listened to his accounts from having been in the field with Chinese scientists.
I finally had to tell him that I was amazed that his speech sounded more like a southern Virginian’s or like someone from Edenton, North Carolina, than what we expected a Scot to sound like.
He laughed and said that Englishmen used to sound like him, too, “300 years ago.”
Well, that Scot’s understanding of English accents fairly well corresponds with the information provided in this article.
It’s very interesting, and I will give this link to my son who is a linguist. We have talked about this several times.
Thanks for the info. This was something I hadn’t read about, but kind of wondered about.
We ate alot better than the average lobsterback.
Q. What is a pirates favorite article of speech?
A. A dangling parrrrrrrrrrticiple.
“New York and Boston accents became non-rhotic, perhaps because of the regions British connections in the post-Revolutionary War era...”
But NOBODY understands what happened to New Jersey:)
One way to seek out the accents is by reading letters written by somewhat uneducated folks. They spell phonetically and sometimes you can follow the accent by reading the letters aloud. This came to me in the Confederate Museum in Richmond, VA several years ago. Soldier letters home actually spoke with southern accents. Fascinating!!
>> The southern accent seems to be merging with the midwestern accent in my area. <<
Sadly, the Southern Accent — or should one say, the Southern “Accents” in the plural — is/are dying. All across the Deep South, not to mention the Upper South, teenagers now ape the talk of Valley Girls and Britney Spears. In 75 years, the Southern accent will be heard only in old movies and recordings.
(This unfortunate development affects both the “drawl” variety and the “twang” variety of Southern speech, the latter being primarily from the Coastal Plain, lower Piedmont and “Delta” areas of the South, with the latter being primarily from the upper Piedmont and mountain areas.)
“Which one? If you put a Maine lobsterman in the same room with an Alabama sharecropper you’d have difficulty believing they are speaking the same language.”
One of my teammates was on a conference call yesterday with a lady from (it was obvious to me) Louisiana. They couldn’t understand her very well so they got me on the phone with her. Being raised down South myself I thought she had a very charming and sexy accent and had no difficulty understanding her.
I have always found it somewhat amusing that the Brits will say something like can’t with that softer a but when saying a word, though Spanish, like taco they say “tacko”.
OK..so explain the southern "woah-man" vs women. It gets puzzlinger and puzzlinger. I'll go get my Saturday morning cup of java and leave you to solve the worlds mysteries. Life is so easy with a Muawiyah around. :)~
George Orl Well?
Back in the 80s I spent some time in Texas and noticed almost immediately that the local newsroom crew didn’t have the standard Texas accent that I heard in the stores and resturant.
On my way to Texas I stopped in Little Rock for the night and asked a gas station attendant if there were any decent cheap motels in the area. He said, “Taint none that’s fittin”. LOL
Clearly, you have never met my ex.
Our ex son in law is originally from Wanhcese, NC and we could never understand him.