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
>> Listen to any streaming BBC service and marvel at the way different announcers talk <<
In the last decade or so, the BBC apparently has made a deliberate effort to have announcers with different regional accents — Scots, Irish, Canadian, Indo-Pak, West African, etc. But in earlier years, all announcers had to have virtually perfect RP.
(I don’t recall hearing an announcer or news reader, however, with an Australian accent. Guess that would be a bridge too far!)
You’ve hit upon one of my pet peeves, lol! The Brits refuse to pronounce ANYTHING in the language of origin. It all has to be translated back into Brit-speak. Thus, tacos becomes “tackos,” pasta becomes the dreaded “pass-ta,” the name Sophia is pronounced So-Fie-ya and on and on and on.
I recently had to correct a British actor friend of mine that the name Cesare is NOT pronounced Chez-AR-ray but
Chez-a-RAY, as it is pronounced in Italian. They are a strange, inward-looking breed.
Peter Noone is from way up north in the Mersey area - he has a distinct regional accent.
I agree! BTW you misspelled typewriter. :))
I think the article is a bit simple—I am sure the Boston accent was different than the Virginian. I think the colonials had there own brand of English and it was nothing like what we speak today—same goes for the English. Its all just speculation.
The same goes for the guy who played Dick Winters on "Band of Brothers",and half the cast of American soldiers too.
The funny thing is that I can't think of an American actor who can do a convincing British accent...go figure.
“Others just look for typing and grammatical errors when they have nothing more relvant to contribute to the discussion or thread, but just want their name to appear somewhere on the page.”
That’s “relevant”, not “relvant”. (heh, heh, heh....)
I love accents! My favorite is Irish!
I don’t like yankee accents at all, it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me.
Southern accents are pretty varied, I call some old south and newer south. (not that it is, just a way for me to mark the difference)
I prefer the old south, like SC, Va, Ga, Al, Ms etc, they seem to skip r’s...thundastorm instead of thunderstorm.
I think of Tx and Fl accents as new south, it’s rougher...kinda like the Aussies compared to the Brits.
I prefer the rougher Aussie accent to the Brits (the Brit accent tends to annoy me, like the yank accents do)
I’m a Texan and I’ve noticed I miss many of the H’s in words, Uouston instead of Houston, Umble instead of humble.
I find Ca, Mn and La accents some of the more unique ones.
I LOVE a great La accent, I would watch Justin Wilson as much for his talk as I did for his cooking!
Then there’s Gullah, man!, I have a HARD time understanding that one! I do love the word ‘swimps’ and use it instead of shrimp...just because I enjoy it and it reminds me of SC.
My Brit in-laws are always amused when they hear people from their part of England, East Anglia, speak with what they call the the posh or received pronunciation accent. They wonder where they learned it. Some English accents are hard to understand. I have a very hard time understanding by bro-in-law from Norwich. However, I have no problem understanding my wife or her sisters who are also from Norwich. Sex and schooling play a part in understandable pronunciation. As in the States, women on average are easier to understand than men. That is when they speak of course.
Just out of curiosity, how would you pronounce ‘Julius Caesar’?
“What kind of accent is denoted by the pronunciation:
Very true. I've noticed the same thing myself. Chalk it up to better training on the part of the Brits. Or absorbing a lot more American tv than Americans absorb Brit tv.
I think it is a natural consequence of technology. Accents and whole languages develop over time inside isolated populations. With the development of radio, TV, internet, air travel, and highways, there is no one in the US isolated enough to form or maintain an accent. About the only accents possible are now from bilingual speakers such as from Mexico or India.
I've found it hard to distinguish between the two at times. Australians sound just like Americans, until they hit a vowel. :-)
Yankee twang: In remote corners of East Anglia today, country folk still speak in a harsh, high-pitched, nasal accent unkindly called the "Norfolk whine." This dialect is the survivor of a family of accents that were heard throughout the east of England in the seventeenth century, from the fens of east Lincolnshire to the coast of Kent.In the Puritan great migration, these English speech ways were carried to Massachusetts, where they mixed with one another and merged with other elements. During the seventeenth century they spread rapidly throughout New England, and became the basis of a new regional accent called the Yankee twang.(1)
Southern drawl: The speech ways of Virginia were not invented on America. They derived from a family of regional dialects that have been spoken throughout the sough and west of England during the seventeenth century. Virtually all peculiarities of grammar, syntax, vocabulary and pronunciation which have been noted as typical of Virginia were recorded in the English counties of Sussex, Surrey , Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Oxford, Gloucester, Warwick or Worcester.(1)
(1)Albion's Seed,David Hackett Fischer
Shakespeare’s 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. Hamlet’s soliliquy (sic) would have opened something like “Toe bay or not toe bay”.
The poet Alexander Pope famously wrote rhyming couplets, some of which no longer rhyme because the Great Vowel Shift was not quite over when he was doing whatever it is that poets do (or perhaps doe).
I occasionally present technical training on the Continent, where the Great Vowel Shift did not take place. I have to be careful when using vowels as mathematical symbols (for instance, I is understood to mean electric current). I say I and I think my students hear E.