When did the American accent become dominant?

When what is now the USA was first populated by Europeans, there must have been pockets where a particular European country’s language was spoken - some, but not all, English. When did the English language become the dominant one, and when, due presumably to intermingling, did the American accent become prevalent?

In every Hollywood Western movie I have seen - no matter when it is set - everyone speaks in an American accent. I presume that that is probably not quite accurate?

Hereis an article from Mental Floss.

First, it’s not clear what you mean by an “American accent.” There are a variety of accents of English in the United States. Their differences between Southern (of which there are several varieties) and New England accents, for example, are in part derived from the regional accents of England where the bulk of the first colonists first came from.

It’s also not clear what you mean by “dominant.” Various varieties of English were dominant in areas colonized by the English from the beginning. In New York Dutch would have been dominant until it was taken over by Britain in 1664. There would have been enclaves of German-speaking immigrants in Pennsylvania and elsewhere for a long time; in fact, there still are a few today. French would have been dominant in Louisiana until after the Louisiana purchase.

In most Western movies I see, at least a few individuals speak in various kinds of accents from England, as well as Irish, Scottish, Mexican, or other accents

In other words, your question is too complicated to give a simple answer.

Interestingly, the article points out that it was the English “Received Pronunciation” accent that changed by dropping the pronunciation of “r” in many situations, while American accents generally retained it. So the “American” form of the English accent was dominant from the beginning.

(The same sort of thing happens in other colonial languages. Some Spanish accents in the Americas retain features of Spanish that have changed in the Spanish spoken in most of Spain.)

I said in my OP that the different European countries would have used their own language - but, over time, nearly everyone ended up speaking American. I have (over) simplified my question because every country’s language consists of different accents while generally being accepted as speaking one language - as in the USA. (Again, I am generalising because not everyone speaks the dominant language.)

Actually, in relation to that Mental Floss article, as the blogger says, the first recorded voice was in 1860, so how do we know *how *people spoke?

I meant, in the title, the American accents as opposed to the European accents - note the added 's’s. Sorry, I should have made that clearer.

Remember that over time, language was changing in Europe just as it was changing in America. In many cases, differences between modern American English and British English are due to changes in British English while American English retains the older features unchanged. There’s an urban legend that the Appalachian accent in the US has not changed over the centuries and is identical to the Elizabethan English spoken by Shakespeare. This is not true, but there’s a germ of truth in it – at least some features of American English today are unchanged while the corresponding features of British English are what changed. So if you’re identifying an “American accent” as “something different from British English”, you have to consider that British English is also a moving target.

5:29 AM, July 16, 1945

As I said, American English was pretty much always dominant regionally in any area once it had been colonized by the English. In a place like New York, English would have supplanted Dutch over the course of a generation or so as English-speaking immigrants came in and the Dutch-speaking residents adopted English. (However, Dutch was still used in places for a long time: President Martin Van Buren’s first language was Dutch.) Just as today, there would be pockets of immigrants (or previous residents in area that had been taken over) who would continue to speak their original language while the next generation adopted English.)

In part because they provided spelling and pronunciation guides, or commented on aspects of the language, as in Noah Webster’s Spelling Book (c. 1800).

It’s still not really clear what you are asking. What do you mean by “European accent”? The accent of someone whose first language was some other language than English?

Non-English accents have contributed to the development of “American accents,” such as the New York City dialect, which has probably been influenced by Dutch, Irish, Italian, and Yiddish, among others.


There is no “American accent”.

We speak the beautifully plain unvarnished tongue the way Cthulhu intended, without any fancy-pants Brit garnish.

Then it depends on what exactly you mean by “dominant.” Depending on that, the answer will vary from 1607 to “never.”:wink:

I’ve never understood this. Are there pronunciation rules for English?

If so isn’t a non-regional accent, from around CT say, a more accurate pronunciation of english than a regional speaker from England or America?

Aren’t the British accents deviating from the dictionary pronunciations?

Why do “European” accents have to do with being non english speakers in their history? Do you mean England too?

Yes, there is a set of pronunciation rules for every accent. They’re all different. If you’re asking whether there is some central authority that determines how all varieties of English should be pronounced, then no, of course there is not.

I don’t understand this question at all. Does “CT” mean Connecticut? Why on earth would you say that the Connecticut accent is not a regional accent? Isn’t Connecticut a region? And why do you contrast the CT accent with the American accent? Connecticut is part of America last time I looked.

They may different from the pronunciation given in American dictionaries but American pronunciations differ from those in British dictionaries. Of course every dictionary must use pronunciation rules for some specific variety of English. In America they usually use General American and in Britain I believe they generally use Received Pronunciation. BTW, the New England English accent predominant in Connecticut differs from General American in many ways so it would be hard to make an argument that it is some kind of “neutral” variety of English.

OK. I just always thought that the R should be pronounced to be correct.

I’m from New England and grew up in CT and MA, with lots of time in NH and Maine. The NE (non rhotic etc.) accent doesn’t exist in CT among natives. It goes to Rhode Island and up to NH. Maine is another pot of beans. It may have gone out in CT with the Peppridge Farm guy, who was vaguely new england.

I can’t hear the GA accent in my head, but if CT people don’t speak that I wonder who does.

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately about the names of towns in the US and Canada and can’t help but get a lot of info on ethinc migration from Europe in the process. There’s all kinds of small enclaves where a group of immigrants from one specific area of Europe settled together. For example, there’s lots of Belgians in the Green Bay area (my great-grandfather was one of them), but often they’re from even more localized areas.

Throughout the Great Plains are all kinds of former enclaves of Russian Germans. Back in the 18th century, the Russians took a lot of what’s now Ukraine and southern Russia from the Ottoman Empire. They needed settlers for it, so they invited Europeans from other countries to settle it. Lots of Germans, especially those of various pacifistic sects who were being oppressed in Germany took them up. They were granted various rights about being able to keep their religion and not having to serve in the army. These people generally didn’t assimilate; they continued speaking German (various dialects) and practicing Mennonite or Hussite or whatever faith.

Fast forward to the late 19th century and the authorities there are starting to take away these rights. The Tsar needs draftees, for example. So some migrated to the US and Canada, and tried to rebuild their communities in various places. They were usually successful for about one generation. For example, there’s a small area in Kansas near the town of Hays where Volga Germans moved in the 1870s. There’s several places there named for villages back in the Old Country and you can find lots of farm houses built in the style from there. There’s other such enclaves of Germans from Russia (as they’re often called) scattered from Texas to Alberta.

But unlike in Russia, these people didn’t avoid assimilation. (There’s probably doctoral theses written about why it was different.) The first generation mostly grew up bilingual, the next were mostly monolingual English. This happened to pretty much all immigrants from anywhere.

All questions of the form “When did social change X happen?” are misguided. All social changes are slow and steady. Language change is one sort of social change, and it also happens slowly. There was no point when British and American accents suddenly split apart. They just slowly drifted apart. In any case, as posters have already indicated, there are a number of different British accents and American accents. The same thing is true of when two closely related languages changed from being two dialects to being two languages. It just slowly happened in a way that make it impossible to say when they became two different languages.

The fact that the Americans in a movie set 150 years ago speak like something close to modern Americans and the Britons in that movie speak like something close to modern Britons only shows that the filmmakers don’t know exactly how people spoke 150 years ago (and maybe don’t care). It’s hard enough for them to get the accents right for a variety of modern English-language dialects. They can’t be expected to do the research to really get older accents right.

You’ve answered your own question. Just as in the UK there is a defacto “King’s English” spoken in the US. It’s a feedback loop between society and broadcast media. what was taught in school was reflected back by different forms of media. If you want a date in time then it would be the golden age of radio that started it. This would have been the first form of spoken words people could hear coast to coast in real time on a daily basis.

This video details how we know what latin sounded like. The ideas work for almost any old/dead language.

My Dad said the same thing: the USA was multi-lingual up until the introduction of broadcast radio (1920’s). It took a while: my older realatives remembered non-english-speaking enclaves, and I’ve seen 1940’s features that feature non-english-speaking rural enclaves.

Maybe a simpler way of asking: How about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington? Would they have spoken with what we now consider a southern accent? Or would they have spoken with more of what we consider a British accent?