Why are accents the way they are

IOW- Why does a Southern or Boston accent sound the way they do?

People talk like folks around them. When things start to shift, the local community follows the shift. One community might shift one way, another shifts a different way.

SAC-But how did accents begin? I acknowledge this is probably unanswerable.

It’s not unanswerable. Accents began when speech began. Everyone has an accent. SmartAlecCat gave you the legit answer to your question.

Oh, I agree it was legit, :rolleyes: just not precisely what my OP meant.

Well, the folks around each other in Boston tended all along to speak like others around them. Same for people in the South (mind you, there’s more than one accent region in Dixie, just as there is more than one accent region in Boston). Also, languages change constantly and always. There’s no such thing as a static language, except for dead languages. Some changes will prove popular (consider the Great Vowel Shift for English), some won’t. Over time, enough changes will have been adopted in two different areas to make the difference in accent quite noticeable and may even lead to the birth of a new language.

The various parts of the east coast of the U.S. were settled by people from different parts of the U.K.:



Note how the accents tend to spread west from the east coast.

Thanks WW! Need my desktop to see it better.

If you’re asking why specific peoples sound specific ways, that isn’t really answerable. What I mean is, to put political correctness aside, why do Asians sound like “ching chong ping” or Swedes “scurney verney hurney” or Germans “Eich ein ach!” etc. the best answer is they don’t. They only sound that way (like noise) to people who don’t speak the language. Languages took so long to develop & evolve, all while mostly isolated from each other, it’s simply not traceable. Especially considering audio recording is barely more than a century old. Be like asking why the continents are the exact shapes they are.

I’m sure there’s some relationships between sound and anatomy, i.e. the shape of different people’s mouths, noses etc. that contribute to the overall sound or tone of their speech, but it isn’t very consequential or relate-able to anything else…

Thanks Hail. That was what my OP was going for.

One answer is that one person “innovates”, that is starts saying things differently from everyone else. Especially if that person has high prestige, others may copy him. Think of Eisenhower saying “nucular”. It made no sense, but many people copied him and it has become standard in many communities. It seems to be the official pronunciation on CBC of all places. Eventually it might spread to a whole community.

But that sort of change is uncommon. On Cape Cod someone started pronouncing “cot” the same as “caught”. I don’t, but that change has spread far and wide and is a common way of detecting dialects on these online dialect quizzes. (BTW, every one of the three or four I have taken correctly identifies me as being from Philadelphia.) But these kinds of changes tend to be confined to smaller areas. And as dialects diverge and become mutually incomprehensible you get new languages. It took only 2000 years, about 80 generations, for Latin to diverge into the various Romance languages.

You might think that smaller communities would “drift” faster than larger ones, but the reverse is true. Fewer innovators means fewer innovations. Apparently, only a very tiny percentage of people ever innovate. Or at least innovate successfully. A friend of mine from MN told me of Danish linguists coming there

and from parts elsewhere, my crystal ball says there’s more influence from German around, say, New Jersey (just look at town names) than Louisiana or California. Non-native speakers brought their own languages, and with them new borrowed terms and expressions, new sounds, new mispronunciations which eventually got incorporated into the local dialect (and thus stopped being mispronunciations).

Hari, it took about 1000 years from Latin to the Romance languages.

Linquistics is a truly interesting science which many people know little about. It ranges from philosophical analysis of "what can be communicated " to tracing specific accents and common expressions . In college, my professor gave an example of distinct accents and idiomstic phrases, etc. which were studied in a rural isolated area of northeast Alabama ( sand mountain, al.) which could be directly identified as having originated in one certain coastal city in scotland. These sounds and expressions are still identifiable extant in these locations only. Also has anyone ever wondered why New Orleans natives have distinct Brooklyn accents?

larryg writes:

> Linquistics is a truly interesting science which many people know little about.

Except on the SDMB, where a number of us know a lot about it. For instance, I have a master’s degree in it. It’s not a good idea to assume that the posters replying to a OP don’t know much about a subject. Often you’ll get several people replying to a question with Ph.D.'s in that field.

Nava writes:

> . . . and from parts elsewhere . . .

Right, and that’s why it’s so hard to explain the various English accents in the U.S. To really answer the question in the OP, it would take a book. I decided to simplify it a whole lot by just giving a link to a website that explained how the accents of certain parts of the U.K. and Ireland affected certain parts of the east coast of the U.S. Really, to understand why American accents developed the way they did would take explaining the entire history of the settlement of the U.S. by the speakers of all the languages that affected current American accents and the entire history of how people spread out across the country. Here’s a couple of long technical articles (neither of which have I read) recommended by the Wikipedia article on American English which talk in some detail about the history of American dialects:

Bailey, Richard W., “American English: Its origins and history”, in E. Finegan & J. R. Rickford (eds.), Language in the USA: Themes for the twenty-first century

Finegan, Edward, “English in North America”, in R. Hogg & D. Denison (eds.), A history of the English language

I also have a degree in Linguistics, albeit an A.B. The OP got snippy (thus their use of the sarcasm emoticon) in response to my posting above even though the “answer they were going for” essentially just pushes the issue back into history–>So the people who immigrated from different parts of England spoke different accents. Right, and how did those accents come about? The answer is the same as SmartAlecCat and I stated. That’s how the issue of accents arose.

Now, how did particular accents arise? That, as Wendell Wagner stated, would take a book. Actually, it would probably take a few books.

The quote above is wron when it states " From 1629-1640 Puritan religious dissenters fleeing oppression from Charles I fled East Anglia"

They were ‘fleeing’ the lack of oppression. They wanted a country which allowed only people who agreed with their Puritan ideas to exist.