When did the American accent develop?

Well Exapno I hate to trouble you with actual facts, but it seems I’m going to have to pound you over the head with a few:

  1. The Jamestown Colony was founded in 1607, a full 13 years before the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower.

  2. It is true that the initial group of 214 settlers (those who had arrived by 1608) was pared down to 60 by disease and starvation. However, the colony was replenished in 1610 when Lord De La Warr arrived with 300 more settlers. It was continually replenished by regular arrivals prior to 1620. By July 1619, the Virginia colony was populous enough to convene its first representative assembly. Cite.

  3. The first Africans arrived, as indentured servants, by 1619. Ibid.

  4. In 1620, “the Bride Ship” arrived in Jamestown, carrying 90 women. Cite (The Pilgrims were still somewhere over the horizon.)

  5. By the time of the first census in 1624, “James Cittie” comprised 124 persons, and the population of the Virginia colony as a whole was 1,232 persons (not counting the natives, of course).

  6. When the Pilgrims finally made it over in November 1620 they comprised a mere 102 persons. Cite.

  7. Like the Jamestown colony, the Plymouth colony suffered heavy losses early on, to the point that by April, 1621 the colony was down to 50 persons. Cite.

  8. By 1630, with various deaths and immigrations, the Plymouth Colony could boast of 300 persons! 300! Cite.

So now we can see that your statement:

…is astonishing. And not in a good way.
This is a good point to pause and recall what triggered this discussion. You made this remark:

I responded with a good-natured retort (note the smiley):

…by which I hoped to gently remind that Virginians had also been around long enough to have an established accent.

And instead I got your pissy reply:

Now, here is the point where one might reasonably expect from you some contrition, and an admission that there were plenty of folks in the South at the time of the Revolution who could trace their genealogies to the 1620s (and beyond). It would be a good spot for an admission, in other words, that your original point (that Northerners but not Southerners might have had distinct American accents by the time of the Revolution) was based on a flawed premise.

Are you man enough to admit your error?

I shall respond to your other points when I have more time.

Hmm. I mislaid my source for the 1624-25 census figures on Jamestown. Well, here’s one which gives that 1,232 number.

Ah. Here’s my original source for the census numbers.

So was reading an article http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=744955
(not that I agree) but it was a thought. It basically said that the US and the South in particular are not Americam accents. They are basically accents brought here from the UK and that because of our “isolation” our dialects did not evolve as fast as they did in Britain. Because of England’s larger population it’s language was changing faster than our own and therefore the dialects found here are more closely related to their origins.

spoke-, you’re still getting my original contention wrong, so whatever you’re trying to prove is irrelevant.

I said, and I meant, that I will only argue about the growth of southern accents. You cannot bait me into anything else.

Well, I guess we can infer your answer to the last question in my post.

From memory:

[Renaissance England in the king’s court]
Moe: We have to stall the princess wedding!
Larry: We could stall it by doing a dance act!
Moe: We don’t have the troubadours so we need a radio!
[Larry and Shemp look puzzled]
Shemp: but we are in old times! What can we use?
Moe: We will use that old radio of course!

[They walk to a very old radio in the hall and after an ad for armor * cleaner the knuckleheads find the period music!]
On more official terms, I go for the time of the publication of The first American dictionary, written by Noah Webster in 1828. IIRC Noah Webster’s focus was to show that Americans had already their own way to pronounce words from the way it was in Britain.

  • Excuse me: armour :smiley:

That looked to me like a message board.

Really? I’ll have to check it out. It was supposed to be like ask… I don’t know, somebody. I didn’t think it was a board though. Here’s one from Wikipedia I found interesting. It kinda vaerifies the previous opinion that the US doesn’t really have it “own” accent but variations of accents brought here from abroad. I recognize and use many of the slang words and phrases myself. (Heinz 57 mutt from Texas that I am.)
IIRC it claims the “non-accent” from a small region in the heartland, (around Omaha) as our US accent if there is such a thing.


It’s exactly the same link that spoke- gave in post #36 (Answers.com just copies from Wiki.)

The US doesn’t “have its own accent” for the simple reason that it has a number of accents. For example, when speaking with members of my family, I speak one of the Southern dialects. When speaking to my students here, I speak the standard broadcast English of the US.

Since all languages change overr time at a more or less predictable rate, even if they have zero contact with outside influence, to say that any particular dialect of English today is closer to one of 400 years ago is grossly simplifying, if not purposefully misrepresenting, the case. Perhaps those who so assert are merely looking at one particular feature of the dialect. As language is composed of far more than one feature, that’s not a valid methodology.

:smiley: oops… sorry about that. I’ve been bouncing around sites and apparently overlooked that one. I started out elsewhere but either way, it’s still good stuff.
I don’t know where I got started originally. You know how that goes? Read and link. read, link etc.
Actually, I think I got there from a different thread I’m into.

BTW, I’m not trying to offend nor have I really taken offense, everything cool?
Personally I’m sorta in the middle now. I stand by my thought that American/English has been influenced by many variables. Which I think is beyond dispute. I’m still uncertain to exactly what accent we are debating.

The OP asks when did English immigrants start to sound American?
Apparently there’s no way to answer this question accurately. As a language evolves, it takes time. There is still no American-English dialect to say “this one”. There was not one then either. There are still places in the US where the dialect sounds British.
When did Americans stop talking like Brits?
I’d say for sure, in 1776. Well, most of us anyway.

I’m having trouble with the “Southern Accent” part. spoke-, when you say Robert E. Lee spoke with a southern accent, do you mean he referred to ursine megafauna as a “bar,” a “bay-er” or a “bay-uh?”

My default accent in moments of crisis or confusion tends to be the accent of my childhood. I think I’m hardwired with those rural West Tennessee sounds.

Mark Twain wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in a Southern dialect. The extent to which it related to the Southern dialect that I grew up speaking in the 1940’s and 1950’s is unknown, but there were certainly similarities in what Twain used at the time of the writing of the book and what I used as a kid growing up about fifty miles from the Mississippi River and the bootheel of Missouri. I had no trouble at all following the dialect of Tom Sawyer when I was ten. I particularly remember finding it funny that someone spelled “Injun Joe” the way we actually said it. (That was a childhood pronunciation, I think – not Southern.)

We are not so far removed from Civil War times as it must seem to those of you who are young. My grandfather and his brothers were Confederate soldiers. My father used to listen to their stories. (He was young when they were very old.) Why wouldn’t my father have learned his speech patterns from his Dad as I learned from mine? All of us grew up within just two or three miles of each other even though 99 years separated my grandfather and me. The community was very isolated and none of us had TV when our speech patterns were being developed. (I did have the radio.)

A lot of Scottish, Scot-Irish, and Irish settled in the Appalachian area. The folk music of the islands became the mountain ballads and eventually the “hillbilly” and country music of the South. The Irish and Scottish dances became the clogging of Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. And I was taught that certain usages in Southern dialects came from Elizabethan and Cavalier English.

OK, a smart-assed question, but I’ll give you a serious answer. :slight_smile:

“Bar” is from the Appalachian version of the Southern dialect, influenced by the Ulster Scot migration of the 1750s.

“Bay-uh” is the tidewater version of the accent found on parts of the coast.

You get “bay-er” most everywhere else.

But ALL are recognizeable as versions of the Southern dialect. All those groups pronounce “life” and “fine” and “pipe” in similar fashion, and differently from those in the North, for example.

We’d have to ask a Virginian how Lee would have pronounced “bear.” The Tidewater version, I’d imagine.

Have it your way. First tell me: do you still contend that “historians can’t agree” about whether there was a recognizeably Southern accent in the Civil War era? Or have you abandoned that silly notion? Please support the statement or have the courage to admit it was wrong.

Now let’s get at things this way:

I think most people will agree that there is (broadly-speaking) a divergence between Northern dialects and Southern dialects (typified by the divergent pronunciations of life/fine/pipe I mentioned above-- among other things).

When did that divergence occur, and why?

I say it occurred because of the geographic separation of the Virginia colony from the Massachusetts (and later New York) colony. And that it was also influenced by the presence of Africans in larger numbers in the South than in the North. (Note the first arrival of Africans in 1619-- before the Mayflower landed.)

If you say the divergence happened later, you’re going to have to come up with another explanation for it, one that isolates the Southern group from the Northern group in sufficient fashion to allow the divergence to occur.

I note that you have misconstrued the quote from the linguist in my earlier post. She said that given isolation, accents/dialects diverge significantly in the very first generation. Go back and read her words carefully. I say the Jamestown Colony and the Plymouth Colony are equivalent to the “Island A and Island B” in her illustration:

The accents continue to evolve, of course, but according to this linguist a significant divergence happens early on.

And if the divergence did occur that early in the colonies, then I think it is fair to argue that American accents both Southern and Northern (or some recognizeable precursor to them) were around by the time of the American Revolution.

Zoe, I would even take it a step further and say that we are not so far removed from the Revolution as it may seem. You rightly point out how generationally close some of us are to the Civil War; we must also remember that those Civil War veterans were even closer to the Revolution - separated from it by only 80-some-odd years.

You don’t get your dialect from your parents. That is a good thing, as I would have been one screwed-up little tyke otherwise. You get your dialect from your peer group.

But this is true in much of the country and is not limited to the south. Anywhere the vowels aren’t subject to Canadian raisins, or something like that.

The only places I’ve heard the Southern pronunciation of the “long i” outside the South are southern Illinois and southern Indiana, areas which were largely settled by Southerners.

(I’m confused. Are you arguing that there is no discernible divergence between “Southern accents” and other accents in the US?)

Just to be clear, I’m talking about how:

“pipe” becomes (almost) “pahp”
“life” becomes (almost) “lahf”
“fine” becomes (almost) “fahn”

in the South. And that happens across the variant Southern dialects.