When did British and American English diverge

At what point in time were British and American English accents sufficiently different to make it noticable? Is one or the other closer to the original accent, or have both wandered in seperate directions?

There was no one single “original” accent, since there have been dialectal differences in English since the Anglo-Saxon period. American English and British English probably began diverging before the discovery of America. American English was created by the mix of dialects of the original settlers, with a stronger presence from the south and west of England, plus other regional Englishes, than we are used to associating with an English accent. Both American and British English have changed over time. In some ways, British English is more conservative, and in some ways more innovative, so that it’s very hard to say who is closer to the original unless you’re talking about specific features.

Post-vocalic r: Americans (and some British dialects) are more conservative.
Distinction between aw / a / o: British (and some American dialects) are more conservative.
‘hit’ for ‘it’: A few stigmatized dialects on both sides of the pond are more conservative.

Probably about the same time Britain and America diverged.

Probably about the same time Britain and America diverged.



Note that the mass of dialects that comprise “British English” have converged over the last 8 or 9 hundred years. There’s less variety because of better communication, printed books, dictionaries, universal education, universal literacy, radio, movies, TV, etc.

If you mean to say they began diverging in 1776, I’d say you’re off by about 170 years. I would say the divergence began with the colonization of Virginia in 1607. It would have been well under way by the time of the Revolution.

So we can blame continental drift?

Are there any existing British accents that are similar to American accents?

I often find myself confused between certain Scottish accents and American accents, as well as some rural English accents from the SW and American accents.

Agreed. It seems to me that the local dialect in the Eastern Highlands, e.g., Sterling, Perth, is very much like standard Mid-western American English. The dialect spoken in Inverness is clearly different and the Broad Scots of the Lowlands has no parallel in American English that I know of. I can’t help but wonder if what we think of as a Canadian accent, at least in rural Ontario owes a lot to the Northern and Western Highlands.

Many of the first American colonists came from the Southwest of England. There is a trace of that in New England and Virginia Tidewater accents. Of course as soon as those people were cut off from the home country and began mixing with people who spoke other English dialects and, for instance in Pennsylvania, German accented English, the local language started to change in both vocabulary and accent.

Slight hijack: How about the Aussie accent? It always sounds cockney to me so I assume most of the original inhabitants were neer-do-wells from in and around London??

If you want to know the point American English and British English began to diverge look at the moment English speakers first landed in America. New names for plants, animals and landmarks would have provided the starting point for divergence. Don’t forget the fact that America from the earliest days was a mix of many different nationalities (Native American languages, Spanish, Portuguese, , Dutch, etc.) which began interact and influence each other.

Uh, 1607!

What’s the prize?


“Language is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of dictionary makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground.” ~ Noah Webster ~

I always thought Cary Grant, who grew up in Bristol, sounded American, though I don’t know if that’s because he lost his accent or if that’s the way they talk in Bristol. Granted, he doesn’t sound like a typical American, just one that is articulate and well educated or upper class, though, there again, that could be the roles he acted in. Still, he doesn’t sound British to me, specifically.

Most of the original inhabitants of Australia arrived here 60,000 years ago when the English were living in mud huts.

If you mean the first European settlers, they were a mixture of lower-class English and Irish, as you would expect to be in a bunch of convicts and soldiers. There would have been some cockneys for sure, but more Irish still.

It is only Americans who perceive the current Australian accent as being anything like the Cockney accent, in my experience - thus the dreadful attempts at it in The Simpsons Australian episode. Would hiring Australian actors have really been so hard?

In “The Penguin History of New Zealand”, it is mentioned that English visitors were complaining about the “low and vulgar” accents of New Zealand born children within a couple of decades of the European settlements being established. It seems to indicate that it can be a very quick process for an accent to diverge from its source.

There may have been some regional origin influence as well as input from Australia that could account for it also.

I know it was incorrect. I just thought it sounded funny.

Guess you had to be there.

No, you’re right; Cary Grant doesn’t sound like anyone else on Earth. He more or less re-invented himself while working in New York – accent, clothes, manners, the lot. I understand he based his accent partly on Noel Coward, and you can hear hints of that in there if you listen closely. I’ve never discerned the slightest trace of Bristolian.

Do you know where online I might here an example of someone from the Eastern Highlands speaking?