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Old 12-23-2008, 05:18 PM
shallora shallora is offline
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Linguistics: When did the American accent first appear, and why?

When did the American accent of speaking English first diverge from the mother tongue, and why?

America was settled by the English in the Seventeenth Century, and the English quickly became the dominant culture in the New World, spreading their language with them. Obviously the Continental Congress was English-speaking, and all our founding documents are written in English.

However without any recording devices around in 1787, it of course is impossible (?) to know with exactly what accent John Adams and George Washington spoke.

We do know that by 1900, when recording devices were around, those in the New World were speaking a variation of English that was much different than those in London.

Ergo, sometime between 1620 and 1900, the English language in America evolved differently than it did in almost any other place the English colonized during roughly that same time period (Australia, India, etc. etc.)

So . . . exactly when did the American accent first appear, and why?
Old 12-23-2008, 05:39 PM
sundog66 sundog66 is offline
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I can't tell you when the American accent was first noticeably different from British accents (and of course it was a gradual process), but as for the "why" question: change is the natural state of language, and whenever a community of speakers splits into two, their respective varieties of the language always eventually change in different ways, resulting in divergence. This has happened countless times in history and is the reason we have families of related languages, and it happens due to very complex social and linguistic reasons.
Old 12-23-2008, 06:16 PM
aruvqan aruvqan is offline
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This is reputed to be Walt Whitman reading 4 lines from a poem. He was born in 1819 and has a pretty much 'american' accent to my ears. A bit slow and drawly, but Im from Rochester NY and we talk like a machine gun is fast[or so I am told, I sound normal to myself.]
Old 12-23-2008, 06:19 PM
DJ Motorbike DJ Motorbike is offline
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I heard or read at least one speculation that the Americans accent may be closer to the way English was spoken in England during colonial times. It is the English accent that has gone through a more drastic change. I think I may have heard that on NPR's A Way With Words.

The explanation as far as I remember related to groups isolated from a main population that were found to have retained patterns of speech that became extinct from the main body of speakers. Imagine finding an isolated group of English speakers that had been isolated since the time of Chaucer. It would be interesting to hear what their English would sound like today assuming that it would be intelligible at all.
Old 12-23-2008, 07:59 PM
unclelem unclelem is offline
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Which American accent? Do you mean the American accent that you hear in movies, TV and radio? In many places in the US that accent is not typical.

A Boston Brahmin accent (think Charles Emerson Winchester III from MASH) sounds more British than American to most Americans.

Surely the divergence was driven in part by the many different immigrant groups settling in different places within America. However, since accents vary so much within the US, I think you're going to have a hard time finding a consistent baseline to compare against.
Old 12-23-2008, 08:13 PM
Sunspace Sunspace is offline
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Which English accent? My understanding is that England has many more local accents than North America does. Maybe there's one with the flat A's of American English?
Old 12-23-2008, 08:22 PM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is offline
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All dialects are slowly changing and at approximately the same speed. The British accents of today are as much different from the British accents of four hundred years ago as the American accents are from the British accents of four hundred years ago. (There was at least as wide a variation among the British accents then as there is today.) There's no more a definite answer to when American accents began to change as there's a definite answer to when British accents began to change. When you physically separate two groups of people who speak the same language, they will immediately begin to separate into different dialects because the language of both will begin to change. British accents today are no closer to the British accents of four hundred years ago than are American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, etc., accents are to the British accents of that time.
Old 12-23-2008, 09:12 PM
Shagnasty Shagnasty is offline
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We have done this one a bunch of times resulting in some interesting threads. One of the better ones, but by no means the only one is:

"Did George Washington Have a Southern Accent?"

Almost all evidence says that the main, basic American accents were in place very early. Very early recordings of old people allow us to see that back quite far and generation jumping back to the old people they knew doesn't show much evidence at all that people in the 1700's would sound out of place today in terms of the accents themselves. Spelling used to be much more nonstandard and phonetic as well and it is easy to see entries like those from poorly educated Civil War soldiers (and others) that suggest that they spoke like they spelled and that was very similar to the accent in places like parts of the Deep South and Appalachia today.


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