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.