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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: prisoner6

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!!


51 posted on 10/09/2010 9:02:15 AM PDT by miss marmelstein
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To: cripplecreek

>> 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.)


52 posted on 10/09/2010 9:02:29 AM PDT by Hawthorn
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To: JimRed

“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.


53 posted on 10/09/2010 9:03:48 AM PDT by dljordan ("His father's sword he hath girded on, And his wild harp slung behind him")
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To: skeeter

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”.


54 posted on 10/09/2010 9:06:01 AM PDT by celtic gal
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To: muawiyah
"..just listen to it when someone says “wash” (as in Warshington) or “squash” (as in Squarsh)."

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. :)~

55 posted on 10/09/2010 9:06:35 AM PDT by Earthdweller (Harvard won the election again...so what's the problem.......? Embrace a ruler today.)
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To: muawiyah
Or Orl, as in Orl Well!

George Orl Well?

56 posted on 10/09/2010 9:08:17 AM PDT by null and void (We are now in day 627 of our national holiday from reality. - 0bama really isn't one of US.)
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To: Hawthorn

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


57 posted on 10/09/2010 9:09:40 AM PDT by cripplecreek (Remember the River Raisin! (look it up))
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To: FrankR
These same people would probably never be so rude as to correct one's grammer or pronunciation if they were in an actual, live, conversation with another person or persons.

Clearly, you have never met my ex.

58 posted on 10/09/2010 9:10:40 AM PDT by null and void (We are now in day 627 of our national holiday from reality. - 0bama really isn't one of US.)
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To: Vinnie

Our ex son in law is originally from Wanhcese, NC and we could never understand him.


59 posted on 10/09/2010 9:11:09 AM PDT by celtic gal
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To: prisoner6

bump


60 posted on 10/09/2010 9:13:18 AM PDT by dangerdoc
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To: dr_who

>> 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!)


61 posted on 10/09/2010 9:13:36 AM PDT by Hawthorn
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To: celtic gal

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.


62 posted on 10/09/2010 9:14:53 AM PDT by miss marmelstein
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To: Eagle Eye; glorgau
Photobucket
63 posted on 10/09/2010 9:25:15 AM PDT by IYellAtMyTV (Workday Forecast--Increasing pressure towards afternoon. Rum likely by evening.)
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To: NavyCanDo

Peter Noone is from way up north in the Mersey area - he has a distinct regional accent.


64 posted on 10/09/2010 9:25:44 AM PDT by kabumpo (Kabumpo)
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To: FrankR

I agree! BTW you misspelled typewriter. :))


65 posted on 10/09/2010 9:35:22 AM PDT by mc5cents
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To: Vigilanteman

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.


66 posted on 10/09/2010 9:35:50 AM PDT by Forward the Light Brigade (Into the Jaws of H*ll)
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To: dr_who
Visit different parts of the UK, and you’ll find that pronunciation and accent vary by region and always have.

English lessons from Hot Fuzz

67 posted on 10/09/2010 9:38:32 AM PDT by Vince Ferrer
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To: prisoner6
What amazes me is the talent that British actors have with American accents,Hugh Laurie on "House" is as British as they come but you wouldn't know it listening to "Dr. House"

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.

68 posted on 10/09/2010 9:38:35 AM PDT by oldsalt (There's no such thing as a free lunch.)
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To: FrankR

“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....)


69 posted on 10/09/2010 9:38:42 AM PDT by flaglady47 (When the gov't fears the people, liberty; When the people fear the gov't, tyranny.)
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To: All

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.


70 posted on 10/09/2010 9:40:17 AM PDT by Irenic
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To: dr_who

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.


71 posted on 10/09/2010 9:40:59 AM PDT by driftless2 (For long-term happiness, learn how to play the accordion.)
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To: miss marmelstein

Just out of curiosity, how would you pronounce ‘Julius Caesar’?


72 posted on 10/09/2010 9:41:51 AM PDT by sinsofsolarempirefan
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To: Let's Roll

“What kind of accent is denoted by the pronunciation:

Pock-ee-stahn”

Obameubonics.


73 posted on 10/09/2010 9:42:25 AM PDT by flaglady47 (When the gov't fears the people, liberty; When the people fear the gov't, tyranny.)
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To: oldsalt
"convincing accent"

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.

74 posted on 10/09/2010 9:44:25 AM PDT by driftless2 (For long-term happiness, learn how to play the accordion.)
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To: Hawthorn
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.

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.

75 posted on 10/09/2010 9:44:57 AM PDT by Vince Ferrer
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To: cripplecreek
In my opinion the Australian accent is converging with the American accent.

I've found it hard to distinguish between the two at times. Australians sound just like Americans, until they hit a vowel. :-)

76 posted on 10/09/2010 9:45:47 AM PDT by thecodont
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To: flaglady47
"That’s “relevant”, not “relvant”. (heh, heh, heh....) "

I rest my case...you got your name on the board today...congrats.
77 posted on 10/09/2010 9:46:05 AM PDT by FrankR (You are only obligated to obama to the extent you accept his handouts.)
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To: prisoner6
The typical English accent didn't develop until after the Revolutionary War, so Americans actually speak proper English.

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

78 posted on 10/09/2010 9:46:36 AM PDT by mjp ((pro-{God, reality, reason, egoism, individualism, natural rights, limited government, capitalism}))
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To: mc5cents
"I agree! BTW you misspelled typewriter. :)) "

NO...I mis-typed "typewriter"...thereby proving my case...you got your name on the board too...congrats.

BTW, did you know the word "TYPEWRITER" can be typed on the same row of keys...isn't that amazing. Much more amazing than a 64 year old making a typing error.

But then, if you had gotten the point, you wouldn't have changed into Captain Spellcheck...would you?
79 posted on 10/09/2010 9:49:27 AM PDT by FrankR (You are only obligated to obama to the extent you accept his handouts.)
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To: Vigilanteman

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.


80 posted on 10/09/2010 9:52:27 AM PDT by bagman
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To: JimRed

I was born in Texas, but we left when I was a baby. After that, I never ventured below the Mason/Dixon line.

When we moved to Georgia in the mid-90’s, I was horrified to find that I couldn’t understand *anybody*. For the first two weeks, my mom took on the role of translator as I tried to get our electricity turned on, phone hooked up, garbage collected, etc.

It only took me a couple of months to get the hang of it, now I can barely hear a difference. Weirdly, I occasionally slip and let loose a Southern accent myself. Without even realizing it, I was involved with “language immersion”.


81 posted on 10/09/2010 9:53:28 AM PDT by Marie (Obama seems to think that Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel since Camp David, not King David)
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To: FrankR

“But then, if you had gotten the point, you wouldn’t have changed into Captain Spellcheck...would you?”

Touchy, touchy, your humor meter is not turned on this morning, is it. Are you suffering from the Obama thin-skinned syndrome?


82 posted on 10/09/2010 9:54:23 AM PDT by flaglady47 (When the gov't fears the people, liberty; When the people fear the gov't, tyranny.)
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To: sinsofsolarempirefan

I pronounce it in the good ole American way - Julius Caesar. Not with a hard C. But like most Americans I tend to pronounce foreign words as they are said in the language of origin, although I tend not to use Latin pronunciation.

My favorite Brit-speak: the Italian film director Pasolini (Pass-O-Lini) is pronounced Pass-AHL-oni in Great Britain. Truly dreadful.


83 posted on 10/09/2010 9:56:51 AM PDT by miss marmelstein
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To: achilles2000

But think of all the translator’s jobs that would be lost!
Ebonics translators or, something this classic “accent” translator from “Bananas”

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oF-AcR14Km8

The problem in all “proper” English definitions is the “useage” in dictionaries. It’s like people using the word
“floundering” when they mean “foundering” Because it’s used it’s there- due to social purists in the dictionary world. Doesn’t mean it’s very intelligent per se, just commonly used. Ebonics unfortunately could become “useage”
and trash talk accepted. I regard all of this like entering a foreign country.


84 posted on 10/09/2010 9:56:57 AM PDT by John S Mosby (Sic Semper Tyrannis)
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To: prisoner6
Adding my two cents ... something I find annoying is listening to these cutesy reporterette types on TV with their modified ‘valley girl’ speak. Must be something they work on at journalism school ... they all sound alike.
85 posted on 10/09/2010 9:58:06 AM PDT by BluH2o
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To: oh8eleven
someone with a mouthful of marbles makes more sense

That's exactly the way I describe South African English.....very tough to understand.

86 posted on 10/09/2010 10:01:08 AM PDT by ErnBatavia (It's not the Obama Administration....it's the "Obama Regime".)
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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.

Largely the result of mass media. There are still certainly pockets with deeply rooted accents, but we all watch the same TV shows.

87 posted on 10/09/2010 10:02:34 AM PDT by Joe 6-pack (Que me amat, amet et canem meum)
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To: driftless2

American actors now do brilliant British accents; just check out all the David Hare plays that come to B’way with American actors playing Brits. The training for accents in both the USA and Great Britain has improved drastically over the last few decades. We’ve come a long way, baby since the days of Dick Van Dyke (Mary Poppins) and Laurence Olivier’s awful American accents!

Unfortunately, in my past actor days I was truly terrible at accents. No ear.


88 posted on 10/09/2010 10:02:41 AM PDT by miss marmelstein
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To: Let's Roll

Ahhsss hooole! BBC twitlet personage


89 posted on 10/09/2010 10:04:10 AM PDT by John S Mosby (Sic Semper Tyrannis)
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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.

Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Nannie McPhee Returns" did fairly well.

90 posted on 10/09/2010 10:04:49 AM PDT by thecodont
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To: ErnBatavia

That’s because it’s Dutch Boer accented English. Like listening to German expats who haven’t spoken German in a while, speak English.


91 posted on 10/09/2010 10:06:04 AM PDT by John S Mosby (Sic Semper Tyrannis)
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To: Marie
Weirdly, I occasionally slip and let loose a Southern accent myself.
I was born and raised in NYC, but lost my accent after moving away at 17.
Years later my NY accent would pop up when I yelled at my kids.
Weird is right.
92 posted on 10/09/2010 10:11:31 AM PDT by oh8eleven (RVN '67-'68)
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To: prisoner6

The article makes the mistake of assuming there was/is a single British accent and a single American accent.

The pirate accent (heavy on the “r”) is alive and well in the small towns of Devon and Cornwall, UK. (Well, 20 years ago it was).

Hear various English accents recorded from the 1950’s through the ‘70s:

http://sounds.bl.uk/Browse.aspx?category=Accents-and-dialects&collection=Survey-of-English-dialects


93 posted on 10/09/2010 10:13:58 AM PDT by LibFreeOrDie (Obama promised a gold mine, but will give us the shaft.)
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To: John S Mosby
Ahhsss hooole! BBC twitlet personage

I once heard a radio interview with the British actor Patrick Stewart. They asked him something about his younger days and he said, "Ah, yes, I was an assle then."

94 posted on 10/09/2010 10:15:27 AM PDT by Nea Wood (Silly liberal . . . paychecks are for workers!)
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To: John S Mosby
Ahhsss hooole! BBC twitlet personage

I once heard a radio interview with the British actor Patrick Stewart. They asked him something about his younger days and he said, "Ah, yes, I was an assle then."

95 posted on 10/09/2010 10:15:36 AM PDT by Nea Wood (Silly liberal . . . paychecks are for workers!)
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To: VA_Gentleman
English and Spanish are converging in America

Beat me to it.

I have no clue what the author means by an American accent. Cross state lines, or for that matter from inner city to suburbs, and you're listening to a different accent.

96 posted on 10/09/2010 10:17:51 AM 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: miss marmelstein

If you don’t pronounce it ‘Yoolius Kayser’ you are guilty of perpetuating one of those English mispronunciations you are railing against.
The only way I can think of that this mispronounciation could have come about is if some English person who had never heard Latin being spoken just read the name as he thought it looked and passed this error on to others. The change in pronounciation could only have come about as a result of confusing the hard and the soft uses of the written letters ‘j’ and ‘c’...


97 posted on 10/09/2010 10:22:18 AM PDT by sinsofsolarempirefan
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To: dr_who; prisoner6

And BBC types and humorists like to make fun of internal regional accents as well, as in this bit of fun from the old
UK TV’s the Fast Show-—”We’re Cockneys!”

Link:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BV8KfpE3BA


98 posted on 10/09/2010 10:23:10 AM PDT by John S Mosby (Sic Semper Tyrannis)
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To: prisoner6

LOL!

The United States of America, and the United Kingdom, two nations separated by a common language.

Where opportunities for confusion abound.


99 posted on 10/09/2010 10:25:11 AM PDT by warm n fuzzy (Really)
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The reference in the article about the upper classes adopting the non-rhotic speech makes me think of NPR. Why do they use so many people with “British” accents? Do they think it lends credence to their propaganda?


100 posted on 10/09/2010 10:26:04 AM PDT by white17x
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