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  #1  
Old 05-01-2009, 05:59 AM
Lust4Life Lust4Life is offline
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Have accents changed over the years?

As an English speaker my question is mostly concerned with that language but others feel free to jump in.

Today we have all sorts of usually instantly recognisable accents all over the world whether its Scouse,American Deep South,Australian,Irish whatever but would these accents sound the same to people from the same backgrounds a hundred,several hundred years ago?

There has been much made that Shakespeare should really be performed in an American accent because that is closer to the English accent of Shakespeares time.

English has changed pretty drastically over the centuries as a language,this I know as when I was at school I had to study the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales and Chaucerian English was pretty much a foreign language.

So have accents changed and for that matter is there anyway that we could actually know if they have?
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  #2  
Old 05-01-2009, 06:44 AM
ftg ftg is offline
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UPenn has a Language Change Across Lifetime project (Google the term for more) that studies just such changes by people during their own lives. The link is for a French Canadian study but I've read about one they did for Philadelphia over many decades.

There was also a study highlighted in "The Story of English" PBS series done in England. They had recorded the stuffy language of upper class college students and showed it constantly shifted in pronunciation. One issue that the UCTotY candidates have is that others start imitating them so they have to keep shifting in order to have a distinguishing accent in a class conscious society. (This series also visited Tangier Island which has a well preserved old accent.)

In short, people's accents change quite a bit within their own lifetimes. But there are amazing exceptions.
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Old 05-01-2009, 07:01 AM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is online now
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Language is always changing. Accents are part of language, so they are always changing. The various English-language accents have changed a lot over the past four hundred years. It's not true that Shakespeare's accent would have sounded closer to a modern American accent than any other. It would have understandable to a current English speaker but rather different from any modern accent. There would be things in it that sounded like various modern accents, but it wouldn't be closer to any one modern accent than any other.
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  #4  
Old 05-01-2009, 07:06 AM
Derleth Derleth is offline
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Originally Posted by Lust4Life View Post
English has changed pretty drastically over the centuries as a language,this I know as when I was at school I had to study the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales and Chaucerian English was pretty much a foreign language.
Really? It's different, I'll grant you, but it's far from a foreign language. It's mostly the same as Modern English, with only a few really different words and nonstandard spelling. (The spelling tends to make it look more foreign than it is.) Beowulf was written in a foreign language (usually called Old English, but calling it Anglo-Saxon is probably more logical) and a modern English speaker can make sense of short sentences, much like that person can make sense of some simple Dutch, and for all the same reasons.
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  #5  
Old 05-01-2009, 07:26 AM
Northern Piper Northern Piper is online now
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Originally Posted by ftg View Post
There was also a study highlighted in "The Story of English" PBS series done in England. They had recorded the stuffy language of upper class college students and showed it constantly shifted in pronunciation.
I remember reading an article recently that commented that Prince William and Prince Harry have different accents than Her Majesty - still sound upper class, but not as precisely articulated and as formal as their grandmother.
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  #6  
Old 05-01-2009, 07:31 AM
elmwood elmwood is offline
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Well, the Brooklyn "toidy toid and toid" accent is almost non-existent now, morphing into a variant of the New York accent.

The regional accent spoken in upstate New York has become much stronger and more distinct from generic "newscaster English" in the past 20 or so years, especially in Buffalo, thanks to the Northern Cities Vowel Shift.
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  #7  
Old 05-01-2009, 10:56 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Originally Posted by Derleth View Post
Really? It's different, I'll grant you, but it's far from a foreign language.
I guess it's in the eye of a beholder. A friend recently told me the story of someone who asked if he was interested in a set of books that couldn't be understood because they were in "old English."

He excitedly showed up to look at these treasures. Turned out they were Dickens.
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  #8  
Old 05-01-2009, 11:19 AM
Driver8 Driver8 is offline
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Originally Posted by Lust4Life View Post
So have accents changed and for that matter is there anyway that we could actually know if they have?
Well, I don't think you need to be in the field to answer this one: if you look at a population where far in the past some people emigrated, and you see in the present that the geographically separate populations have different accents, then it is clear that at a minimum one of these groups experienced a shift. So we know that accents change.

As to the reasons why, and for piecing together clues about how they have changed and what they may have sounded like in the pase, I am very interested in hearing what people have to say about that!
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  #9  
Old 05-01-2009, 11:30 AM
Daddypants Daddypants is offline
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I would thing accesnts have changed over time. People tend to lose and gain accents as they move from place to place, especially if they stay in one place for a long time. I have lived in Atlanta for the vast majority of my life; my parents were born and raised in New York. The friends I grew up with say I sound more like a yankee, when I visit relatives up north, they say I sound like a redneck. I guess my accent is a nice mix of the two.
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  #10  
Old 05-01-2009, 11:40 AM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is online now
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It's not easy to explain how and why languages change and how we reconstruct older versions of languages. Basically, you need to take a course on historical linguistics to learn about that. A book that's aimed at a casual reader is The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutsch.
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  #11  
Old 05-01-2009, 11:41 AM
SciFiSam SciFiSam is offline
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Another way of estimating what accents sounded like in the past is to look at rhyming poetry, the metre of that poetry, plays on words, spellings (since standardised spellings weren't common for a long time).

Short BBC article about Shakespeare's accent.
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  #12  
Old 05-01-2009, 12:17 PM
KlondikeGeoff KlondikeGeoff is offline
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Originally Posted by elmwood View Post
Well, the Brooklyn "toidy toid and toid" accent is almost non-existent now, morphing into a variant of the New York accent.
Having been born there (Bay Ridge), I miss that. Last person i heard doing the real thing was Buddy Hackett.

Toity poiple boids was a-sitting the the coib,
A-choipen and a-boipen and eatin' doity woims.
When Goit and Boit seen da' toity poiple boids,
Gee, they was poiterbed.
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  #13  
Old 05-01-2009, 02:36 PM
Enright3 Enright3 is offline
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Originally Posted by ftg View Post
UPenn has a [url=http://www.sciencestorm.com/award/0132463.html][portion deleted]
In short, people's accents change quite a bit within their own lifetimes. But there are amazing exceptions.
I can attest to this several times over. When I've talked to people over the phone I haven't talked to for years it's something that has frequently been commented on... how they sound different. Not only in pitch and timbre, but of course phrases etc.

If the show Deadwood is in any way accurate with the old style way of talking, I'd say we've change a LOT.
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  #14  
Old 05-01-2009, 03:44 PM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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I was born and raised here in NE Ohio, then lived in NYC for 25 years. When I returned here I noticed a definite "twang" that hadn't existed before. It slowly creeps up from the southern parts of the state, where there had been a large influx of people from W. Virginia and Kentucky. The speech I'm hearing in northern Ohio is similar to the speech in Columbus a generation ago.
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  #15  
Old 05-01-2009, 03:46 PM
Smeghead Smeghead is offline
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Originally Posted by Enright3 View Post
If the show Deadwood is in any way accurate with the old style way of talking, I'd say we've change a LOT.
We've certainly dropped "cocksucker" from our everyday vocabulary. At least some of you cocksuckers have.
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  #16  
Old 05-01-2009, 05:30 PM
Alive At Both Ends Alive At Both Ends is offline
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
I guess it's in the eye of a beholder. A friend recently told me the story of someone who asked if he was interested in a set of books that couldn't be understood because they were in "old English."

He excitedly showed up to look at these treasures. Turned out they were Dickens.
London accents have certainly changed over time if Dickens is anything to go by. His Cockneys seem incapable of pronouncing the letter "v". Dickensian willains have wery wicious woices. Today's Londoners don't speak that way.

At the other end of the social spectrum, just listen to the incredible accents in British films from the 1940's. War films are particularly good at this sort of thing - where the characters are forever talking about "Jerry planes", "hush-hush projects", and "I know it's all a load of rot, old chap, but...". Apparently the short a was pronounced as an e. "A terrible eccident hes heppened!" Not even the Queen speaks like that these days.

Last edited by Alive At Both Ends; 05-01-2009 at 05:30 PM..
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  #17  
Old 05-01-2009, 07:31 PM
John Mace John Mace is online now
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Originally Posted by Derleth View Post
Really? It's different, I'll grant you, but it's far from a foreign language. It's mostly the same as Modern English, with only a few really different words and nonstandard spelling. (The spelling tends to make it look more foreign than it is.)
Not really. The spelling makes it easier to understand than the spoken form, since many words were pronounced quite differently than they are today, but the spelling is the same, or similar. However, I suspect that it wouldn't take long for a modern speaker to get used to the accent if he were exposed to it regularly.

Last edited by John Mace; 05-01-2009 at 07:31 PM..
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  #18  
Old 05-02-2009, 12:05 AM
DrDeth DrDeth is offline
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Originally Posted by Derleth View Post
Really? It's different, I'll grant you, but it's far from a foreign language. It's mostly the same as Modern English, with only a few really different words and nonstandard spelling. (The spelling tends to make it look more foreign than it is.) Beowulf was written in a foreign language (usually called Old English, but calling it Anglo-Saxon is probably more logical) and a modern English speaker can make sense of short sentences, much like that person can make sense of some simple Dutch, and for all the same reasons.
Old English is more or less Anglo-Saxon. But although we can read Chaucers Middle English*, I doubt if you could understand him.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_English

* true, we need help with some of the words.
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Old 05-02-2009, 07:14 PM
Erdosain Erdosain is offline
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Originally Posted by Smeghead View Post
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If the show Deadwood is in any way accurate with the old style way of talking, I'd say we've change a LOT.
We've certainly dropped "cocksucker" from our everyday vocabulary. At least some of you cocksuckers have.
I was absurdly disappointed when I found out that all the swears in Deadwood were anachronistic. I kind of wish the old west really had sounded like that.
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  #20  
Old 05-02-2009, 08:14 PM
DrDeth DrDeth is offline
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I was absurdly disappointed when I found out that all the swears in Deadwood were anachronistic. I kind of wish the old west really had sounded like that.
Oh hell, they swore like muleskinners. But many the swearwords would sound funny today.
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  #21  
Old 05-02-2009, 08:45 PM
salinqmind salinqmind is offline
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Originally Posted by elmwood View Post
Well, the Brooklyn "toidy toid and toid" accent is almost non-existent now, morphing into a variant of the New York accent.

The regional accent spoken in upstate New York has become much stronger and more distinct from generic "newscaster English" in the past 20 or so years, especially in Buffalo, thanks to the Northern Cities Vowel Shift.
I live in Upstate NY, so this is interesting to me! I wonder what our accent sounds like? And WHY did the accents change? I know the same thing happened in England centuries ago, maybe because of population movement after the Black Death.
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  #22  
Old 05-03-2009, 05:39 AM
Hari Seldon Hari Seldon is offline
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Although it doesn't bear on accent, here is an amusing story. In 1988, I read the book "Looking Backwards" by ??? Bellamy. In brief, the idea was that a man from 1888 had somehow been transported to the year 2000 and was looking back to 1888 and describing how life was different. I no longer recall much of the story (except that as prediction it was lousy), but what struck me was the incongruity of people supposedly living in 2000, but using language from the 19th century and then I realized how much language had changed in just 100 years. I hear myself using expressions all the time that didn't exist in 1937 when I was born. More telling is that I sometimes have trouble understanding my children, so I assume something is changing about the phonetics.
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  #23  
Old 05-03-2009, 10:44 AM
Turble Turble is offline
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A couple of things that seem to be increasingly common over the past several years that I've thought about as changing the language ...

People who pronounce “M” not with closed lips but with the top teeth against the bottom lip, top lip pulled high to expose the teeth … I'd guess it is television related.

People, seems mostly teens and twenties, who pronounce words ending in “T” not with the tongue against the front of the palate / back of the top teeth, but with a sort of 'stop' at the back of the throat (gutteral stop?). No idea how that one has come about.
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  #24  
Old 05-05-2009, 07:46 AM
Lust4Life Lust4Life is offline
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Originally Posted by Alive At Both Ends View Post
London accents have certainly changed over time if Dickens is anything to go by. His Cockneys seem incapable of pronouncing the letter "v". Dickensian willains have wery wicious woices. Today's Londoners don't speak that way.

At the other end of the social spectrum, just listen to the incredible accents in British films from the 1940's. War films are particularly good at this sort of thing - where the characters are forever talking about "Jerry planes", "hush-hush projects", and "I know it's all a load of rot, old chap, but...". Apparently the short a was pronounced as an e. "A terrible eccident hes heppened!" Not even the Queen speaks like that these days.
I saw a tv programme that mentioned that Rank Odeon( British film production company)actually had an elocution school where the actors were taught the "Hev"for have etc. though whether or not that was a genuine reflection of the middle class accent of the time or some sort of idealised version I dont know.
Found it quite comical in some old films where the rustic milkmaid is speaking in carefully ennuciated middle class tones.
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