When did the American accent develop?

I know I’m covering everything from Georgia to Maine here, so the answer might vary quite a bit. But at what point did English immigrants to America start to sound American? “The Patriot” was on TV (don’t worry, I didn’t watch for long) and I was struck by how these guys, who couldn’t be more than one or two generations removed from the motherland, sounded all American-like. But, that was “The Patriot.”

So, to restate the question: did Thomas Jefferson and company sound distinctly American? How long did it take to develop?

It’s quite likely, actually, that the changes went the other way. In other words, that the American accents actually preserve the British pronunciations of English from the 17th and 18th Centuries. What we think of as an “English accent” now is quite different from the way that the Williams Pitt and Lord North sounded back in the day.

False premise. The Jamestown colony was established in 1607. If you count a generation at 20 years, the Revolution was more than 8 generations later. Or if you take into account the earlier childbearing age back then, as many as 11 or 12 generations.

I’m guessing you don’t doubt there was an American accent by the time of the Civil War, only “four score and 7 years” after the Revolution. So would you suggest that there were no American accents during the 170 years between colonization and Revolution, but then they sprang up in the 80-odd years between the Revolution and the Civil War?

Not the first time I’ve heard this assertion, but I don’t believe it. American accents were influenced early on by Indian pronunciations of English words and African pronunciations of English words, and later by the accents of hosts of immigrants from many other countries.

I’m just asking a question, buddy :rolleyes:

I take it back about the generation thing. That’s my whole point, though. Americans have a relatively common mode of speech (with strong exceptions in, say, The Bronx or Appalachia); when did this occur?

When two groups speaking the same language are separated for as little as a few decades, their languages began to diverge. These changes always happen to both groups, but since they are separated with llittle contact, the changes in how they speak the common language are different for the two groups. Americans and Britons have been separated for three or four hundred years now with only a limited amount of contact. Both American dialects and British dialects are different from the way English was spoken in, say, 1600, just before the first British colonists came to America. Memorize these two facts:

  1. Languages always change.

  2. They change in different ways in two groups that are separated.

Accents in the past are extremely difficult to gauge. There is no consensus among historians over whether Virginians like Jefferson or Washington had what would become the southern accent, a British accent, some combination of the two, or something completely different.

And accents would only be a feature of those who were born or grew up in the country. There was at all times a large percentage of immigrants, from a number of countries, especially in the north. They were unlikely to have an American accent at all.

So maybe some Yankees or New Yorkers or Philadelphians with long genealogies by the time of the Revolution had what we would consider American accents. But America was a stew, not a melting pot, and everyone talked a little funny to everyone else’s ears.

I gotcha strong exceptions right here, buddy!

I wonder if Mel Gibson think the Jews started that one too. I can hear Patrick Henrystein saying “Give me liberty or give me kvetch”.

Actually, when you consider that sound recording has been around for about a century, it ought to be possible to detect any difference in accents over that period (if it exists). I certainly would say that some British accents have changed noticeably over this period. Listen to the upper-class British accent heard on films from the 1930’s and 40’s - nobody speaks like that today, not even the Royal Family.

Hmm. Yeah. My post was unduly confrontational. Sorry about that.

Or Virginians with even longer genealogies? :slight_smile:

I say the Southern accent was in place by the time of the Revolution, an idea which was discussed way back in '99 in this thread: Did George Washington have a Southern accent?

On the other hand, Georgia (est. 1733) was still a relatively new colony at the time of the Revolution, so I’m sure British accents could still be heard in Savannah.

Maybe, kind of, relative to England, but not really.

Certainly not before the age of television.

Weeell, there was an aural mass medium before TV. I think they called it radio or something.

Except in Britain, where they called it “wireless”. :stuck_out_tongue:

Yes, but nothing I have read or heard has suggested that radio was a major factor in homogenizing American accents.

Actually, even before radio, public entertainment was presented largely by travelling performers and professional actors above a certain level of quality would all have been trained in a formal, generally uniform “stage” accent. So, theater could be considered a pre-electronic aural mass medium of a kind.

Still, for whatever reason, I believe television has been far more influential in this regard that the audio-only media. I could be wrong, but that’s my impression.

It seems that the opposite is true:

(From another page on the same site:)

Tosh. I’ll bet there were far many more in the north descended from the groups that came over in the 1620s than descendents of the Jamestown colony in Virginia. And either way they would be a tiny percentage of the whole.

You say that there, too, but there is nothing in that thread to back it up other than your continued assertions. This is a hotly disputed area and assertions won’t cut it. Nobody knows the answer.

You’re wildly underestimating the effect of continued immigration into all the colonies. Eight of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence and seven of the 40 signers of the Constitution were foreign born. If there ever was an elite in America, these are them. You can safely assume that the lower classes had a far higher percentage of emigrants, mostly from the U.K., as all eight of the DI signers were. Unfortunately, a question on place of birth was not added until the 1850 census, so there is no official statistics on foreign born in 1790. Some estimates have been made, but I can only find references to publications that they’re in and not the stats themselves online.

British accents of all types and classes would be heard all over the colonies and in the early U.S. It’s hard to imagine that these wouldn’t be a norm, at least outside the Pennsylvania Dutch areas and a few other outliers. The mixture would certainly be changing rapidly from the UK base, but in what directions and ways is impossible to say.

Which confirms my first reaction that the premise of the OP is false.

Let me challenge those assumptions. British immigration did not stop with Jamestown, it was more or less continuous from then to the American Revolution, and continually bringing and reinforcing British pronunciations in America.

As for the year count for a generation, 20 is too little. A generation is calculated by the average age of mothers at the times of birth of all their children, not just the first child. The incidence of women bearing children before age 18 has been much exaggerated in popular belief. I’m a genealogist and can tell you from working with colonial-era birth and marriage records that women marrying before 18 was not common, much less having children before 18. Don’t trust popular beliefs, look at the records.

I prefer to think of it as a big bowl of chili.

One that sometimes gives you heartburn.

This might be an anomaly, but I’ve been struck before by the accent Edward VIII had when he gave his abdication speech over the radio. (As heard in documentaries of course. I wasn’t alive at the time.) He sounded a lot like Peter Cook in The Princess Bride. The Queen too, in some of her early speeches, sounds a bit Peter Cook-ish to me.

From this, I think we can safely conclude that the early American colonists talked mostly like Dudley Moore.

There are or were a few descendents of early settlers still living in the mountains of Appalachia who still spoke in old dialects. Some interviews with these folks were preserved on VHS and DVD by Bill Landry of WBIR TV-10 in Knoxville, TN.

There is no one identifiable American accent or dialect as such vary from place to place.