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When Did Americans Lose Their British Accents?


Salty Dog

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When Did Americans Lose Their British Accents?

The absence of audio recording technology makes “when” a tough question to answer. But there are some theories as to “why.”

Mental Floss | Matt Soniak

There are manymany evolving regional British and American accents, so the terms “British accent” and “American accent” are gross oversimplifications. What a lot of Americans think of as the typical "British accent” is what's called standardized Received Pronunciation (RP), also known as Public School English or BBC English. What most people think of as an "American accent," or most Americans think of as "no accent," is the General American (GenAm) accent, sometimes called a "newscaster accent" or "Network English." Because this is a blog post and not a book, we'll focus on these two general sounds for now and leave the regional accents for another time.

English colonists established their first permanent settlement in the New World at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, sounding very much like their countrymen back home. By the time we had recordings of both Americans and Brits some three centuries later (the first audio recording of a human voice was made in 1860), the sounds of English as spoken in the Old World and New World were very different. We're looking at a silent gap of some 300 years, so we can't say exactly when Americans first started to sound noticeably different from the British.

As for the "why," though, one big factor in the divergence of the accents is rhotacism. The General American accent is rhotic and speakers pronounce the r in words such as hard. The BBC-type British accent is non-rhotic, and speakers don't pronounce the r, leaving hard sounding more like hahd. Before and during the American Revolution, the English, both in England and in the colonies, mostly spoke with a rhotic accent. We don't know much more about said accent, though. Various claims about the accents of the Appalachian Mountains, the Outer Banks, the Tidewater region and Virginia's Tangier Island sounding like an uncorrupted Elizabethan-era English accent have been busted as myths by linguists. 

Talk This Way

Around the turn of the 18th 19th century, not long after the revolution, non-rhotic speech took off in southern England, especially among the upper and upper-middle classes. It was a signifier of class and status. This posh accent was standardized as Received Pronunciation and taught widely by pronunciation tutors to people who wanted to learn to speak fashionably. Because the Received Pronunciation accent was regionally "neutral" and easy to understand, it spread across England and the empire through the armed forces, the civil service and, later, the BBC.

Across the pond, many former colonists also adopted and imitated Received Pronunciation to show off their status. This happened especially in the port cities that still had close trading ties with England — Boston, Richmond, Charleston, and Savannah. From the Southeastern coast, the RP sound spread through much of the South along with plantation culture and wealth.

After industrialization and the Civil War and well into the 20th century, political and economic power largely passed from the port cities and cotton regions to the manufacturing hubs of the Mid Atlantic and Midwest — New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, etc. The British elite had much less cultural and linguistic influence in these places, which were mostly populated by the Scots-Irish and other settlers from Northern Britain, and rhotic English was still spoken there. As industrialists in these cities became the self-made economic and political elites of the Industrial Era, Received Pronunciation lost its status and fizzled out in the U.S. The prevalent accent in the Rust Belt, though, got dubbed General American and spread across the states just as RP had in Britain. 

Of course, with the speed that language changes, a General American accent is now hard to find in much of this region, with New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago developing their own unique accents, and GenAm now considered generally confined to a small section of the Midwest.

As mentioned above, there are regional exceptions to both these general American and British sounds. Some of the accents of southeastern England, plus the accents of Scotland and Ireland, are rhotic. Some areas of the American Southeast, plus Boston, are non-rhotic.

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/when-did-americans-lose-their-british-accents

 

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Paddy

About the time you threw the tea into the hahber!

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jtmwatchbiz

Interesting article and if one listens to old movies and news broadcasts there is a noticeable difference in speaking style as well, so I agree that this transition was and is gradual and continuous.  

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battleborn

What about that Texan drawl or accent

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HeyMike

 

I know I lost my British accent when I grew up in Bayonne.... that's in Jersey (New).

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Salty Dog

There is no such thing as 'American English'.

There's the English language, and there are mistakes...

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jtmwatchbiz
1 hour ago, Salty Dog said:

There is no such thing as 'American English'.

Yes there is as America is the best, and every other country's English sounds funny.

Edit: Especially them upside down Aussies!

(had to stick it to Pete and Mike ) :biggrin_01: 

 

  

Edited by jtmwatchbiz
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rfm010
14 hours ago, Salty Dog said:

There is no such thing as 'American English'...

True, but there is "american".

english is for foreigners.

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BossHog

Recently listened to an FDR speech and his accent and intonation were nearly unrecognizable as 'American' to my ears.

Sent from my KFDOWI using Tapatalk

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Ozepete
8 hours ago, jtmwatchbiz said:

Yes there is as America is the best, and every other country's English sounds funny.

Edit: Especially them upside down Aussies!

(had to stick it to Pete and Mike ) :biggrin_01: 

 

  

Well I reckon it's good that there are distinctly difference accents country to country.  When us Aussies talk (propa hinglish speakers)  its pretty obvious who we are and so we don't get mistaken as Yanks or Poms, :P and I guess you guys don't want to be confused with us either!!:huh:

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cookie47
9 hours ago, jtmwatchbiz said:

Pete and Mike

HEY,, What about me,, ahh,, OK I'm only a blow in, not full blood. 🙃

 

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Ozepete
10 minutes ago, cookie47 said:

HEY,, What about me,, ahh,, OK I'm only a blow in, not full blood. 🙃

 

Nar, you're one of us mate, Any Pom that survives ten plus years of our shit stirrin' BS and who washes more often than once a week, is all true blue Aussie. :thumbsup:

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cookie47
Nar, you're one of us mate, Any Pom that survives ten plus years of our shit stirrin' BS and who washes more often than once a week, is all true blue Aussie. 
Thanks,
Pete, 50 years this past March 28.Im still saving to pay the £10 back.....

Sent from my MI MAX using Tapatalk

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Ozepete
24 minutes ago, cookie47 said:

Thanks,
Pete, 50 years this past March 28.Im still saving to pay the £10 back.....

Sent from my MI MAX using Tapatalk
 

At least you paid your own way and got a certificate, my mob came out for free, but not free at the time and were on a hiding to nothin'. :baseballbat:  No wonder we're all half fecking mad! 

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cookie47

Note, this is just a TRUE story, I'm not Philippines bashing, (I live here).

At BBQs in Australia the subject of American English, Australian English, and British English would OFTEN come up. The Philipino would expound the fact that they spoke American English and that is different from British English. Yeh, no problem... However I would inquire,,, How do you think English got spoken in America. Same as Spanish/Portuguese in Central and southern America. And some French and others in some parts.

After a few beers I would say, did it get their BY, FEDEX, UPL, DHL, Royal Mail, Australia Post.

Ahh, Dave your funny,,, haha,, but you know, they had no idea what happened in the 1600s onwards, which I completely understand as history is often taught in a local environment,although the British Empire was rambed down my throat at school.

Sent from my MI MAX using Tapatalk

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