The original English settlers who colonized the land that would become the United States migrated over in the 17th century; and, of course, had the English speaking accent. But if you’re imagining that these Pilgrims spoke in the current British speaking accent of today, then hold on a second, we’ve got news for you: The modern American accent is quite similar to how English used to be spoken than the British accent is.
Related media: What is Linguistics?: Crash Course Linguistics #1
Hey There, How Do You Say “R”?
The distinction between the British speaking accent and the American speaking accent is known as a rhoticity — that’s how a language says it’s ‘Rs.’ The stereotypical American speaking accent (or what you might think of as the “newscaster voice”) is a rhotic accent. What this simply means is that, the Rs are enunciated — are clearly said; whereas the stereotypical English speaking accent is a non-rhotic accent, the ‘Rs’ aren’t enunciated — aren’t clearly said; Try pronouncing words like “butter” and “corgi.”
Of course, there are a few American speaking accents that drop the ‘R,’ too — Bostonians “pahking the cah in Hahvahd Yahd,” for instance, or a waitress in the South who calls you “Suga.” And some accents in Northern England, Ireland, and Scotland retain their “Rs” as well. But Americans saw no need of the Rs in their new country. Instead, the British speaking accent people, willingly lost theirs. During the Industrial Revolution, many formerly lower-class British people suddenly became wealthy, but eventually lost their accent, and were considered commoners.
In efforts to distinguish themselves, this new class of Britons came up with their own fancy style of speaking; and eventually caught up with the entire country. It’s called “received pronunciation,” and soon began influencing most other English speaking accent. For instance, the Cockney accent is just as non-rhotic but a lot less hoity-toity.
Oh! Yankey, You’re Missing The “Rs”
Meanwhile in most parts of the United States, typical English-speakers had no idea that the ‘Rs’ were off. Although the speaking accents of both cultures had changed, yet some Americans claimed that their peculiar regional dialect is actually the original English speaking accent, and was preserved for all time in a remote places of the country. But unfortunately, most of these claims don’t really pan out.
The Appalachian accent, which is distinct by some rare archaic vocabulary such as “afeared,” it doesn’t seem to have much connection to the classic speaking accents of Shakespearian era. The people of Virginian Tangiers Island, speak a strange form of English accent difficult for even Americans to understand, which claims to be the original English speaking accent. But linguist David Shores believes the idiosyncratic speech is a result of isolation instead.
Th’ Land O’ Th’ Yankees Vs Th’ Queen’s Domain
But on the topic of English speakers making a conscious choice to drop their Rs, there was an interesting blip in linguistic history around the time that radio became popular. Like received pronunciation, the Mid-Atlantic or Transatlantic Accent was deliberately invented to serve a purpose. You almost certainly don’t know anybody who speaks it, but you’ve definitely heard it before.
This is the voices of Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Vincent Price; they do not enunciate the ‘Rs,’ they articulate the ’Ts,’ and they somehow soften all their vowels to an erudite drawl. It seems the accent is an ambiguous combination of both the British and American speaking accents. Spoken together, all of the factors made it the perfect accent for broadcasting back then.
This peculiar new accent became easily adapted, even on earlier audio equipment with poor bass frequencies, and could appeal to listeners in multiple English-speaking countries. But it fell out of favor after World War II, and one of the first accents to be immortalized on audio recording was consigned to another piece of wartime nostalgia.
Read more facts like this one in your inbox. Sign up for our daily email here.
The Factionary is ever ready to provide you with more interesting content for your reading pleasure. If you’re amazed by our work, you can support us on Patreon by a donation fee of your choice. Thank you!
Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sat, Feb 16, 2019.