More British than the British?

Just this week I stumbled upon (literally — using StumbleUpon.com) this single page: Did Americans in 1776 have British Accents? Of course, I already knew the answer or thought I did from previous reading, but this page reminded me of the subject. I originally heard the answer with regards to Canadian English, but I suspected that the answer would be the same for Americans, and it was, which marks the second time that I have have been right this month — in any year. 🙂

Simply put, North American speech is closer to old British speech than is current British speech. Howdya like that, Shakespeare?

The reason is that British English underwent a great shift after many of our forbears had already emigrated to the North American colonies. So, while the Brits changed their speech, we tended to retain the speech patterns of our forefathers … and our fourmothers for that matter. Oh here, let’s just have Nick Patrick describe it from his website.

While there are many differences between today’s British accents and today’s American accents, perhaps the most noticeable difference is rhotacism. While most American accents are rhotic, the standard British accent is non-rhotic. (Rhotic speakers pronounce the ‘R’ sound in the word “hard.” Non-rhotic speakers do not.)

So, what happened?

In 1776, both American accents and British accents were largely rhotic. It was around this time that non-rhotic speech took off in southern England, especially among the upper class. This “prestige” non-rhotic speech was standardized, and has been spreading in Britain ever since.

Most American accents, however, remained rhotic.

And if you think Americans are rhotic, well … just wait until you hear this Canucklehead speak. I like to think that Shakespeare would be proud.

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12 Responses to More British than the British?

  1. Ginnie says:

    From my experience the Americans from New England (especially the Maine-iacs) are the ones who drop the r’s. The rest of us, altho we have different accents, still seem to retain the r.
    As to your little one … he is so sweet and I loved to watch his ascent to stage 4. He sure was proud …as he should have been.

  2. Lorna says:

    Really? Remarkable! (hard r)

  3. Grenville says:

    Two rights in a month….. I’m envious!! 🙂 with a hard R…..:-)
    Grenville

  4. KGmom says:

    I had previously read about this assertion that Americans speak more nearly as Shakespeare would have. An interesting assertion.

  5. Mary says:

    AC, had fun catching up on some of your posts that I’ve missed. Sounds like you had a great time at the old mill. Loved the photos of Zack. He is a darling and I’m sure will catch many a girl’s eye when he’s a little older, if he isn’t already.

    So nice to be in touch.

    Blessings,
    Mary

  6. Bernie says:

    I love the different accents, there are times though I have to listen closely to know what is being said, I find the New England accent quite broad compared to the Western US States……:-)Hugs

  7. QMM says:

    That was full of information I needed to know. I love watching the British productions, but sometimes can’t catch it all. Now I know why.
    QMM

  8. Mara says:

    So, basically: your accent is as British as mine! That should make understanding each other a whole lot easier or am I presuming too much now?

  9. So when saying hard…it sounds like, ard….I need to watch My Fair Lady again…Hahaaaa…oooops! Ahahaaa….
    Appy Day Ac!
    hughugs

  10. Frank says:

    Lard tunderin’ jaysus lad, how the hell do you explain the Newfies, eh?

  11. Hilary says:

    I was all prepared to comment but Frank made me forget what I was going to say. I thought he was my Newfie neighbour.

  12. Jinksy says:

    Non-rhotic ? Well, I never – rhoticism sounds like an ‘orrible new disease?!
    I can’t roll my ‘r’s for the life of me, so when speaking French in school, I must have sound really odd, but it never stopped me passing Oxford ‘A’ level French, and that was what counted…
    The Scots still manage to ‘rhot’ away with gusto – if you see what I mean?! lol

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