Did Americans in 1776 have British accents?

Mudassir Ali
Mar 11, 2020 04:28 PM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Mar 11, 2020 04:29 PM

I can’t give any references for this but I have read in the past that at least one person from England around the time just before the American Revolution stated that the average American spoke better English than his compatriots at home. I take that to indicate that there was no difference between the two continents in what he considered standard English.

In addition, Englishmen born in England and Englishmen born in North America were so indistinguishable, one from another, that during the Revolution, anyone spying on the other side had no fear of being recognized as to which side he was on.

Then, there is the evidence of the Canadians. A huge proportion of Canadians’ ancestors came from what is now the United States. They were the loyalists who preferred to leave…and maybe some were forced to leave…the new U.S. and go to Canada. I believe that there was actually little cultural interchange with the US for decades and decades, so the fact that Canadians sound like Americans and not Englishmen means that they arrived in Canada sounding like present-day Americans. The fact that there was little cultural interchange was due to the fact that Canada felt it had to defend itself against a possible American invasion. Up until not long before WWI, Canadian defense strategy assumed the enemy to be the United States (“Oh, Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”

To this day, go into the English countryside and you will hear very american-like sounds among the population in many places. To get rid of those sounds, the gentry send their children to boarding schools to learn “Received Pronunciation” which they had better learn and at least partially adopt to achieve success.

The pronunciation that they thus “receive” is essentially a German accent, I believe. (This ought to anger the Brits.) The accent of the Kings of England from around the time of the American Revolution was German; the mother tongue of the Georges was German, they married German women and German was spoken at home, among the royals. When speaking English, they had an accent and a German way of pronouncing certain words and combinations such as the “ei” of either, etc. The court imitated the royals, the upper nobility imitated the court, and so on down the line. It stopped with the commoners…unless they were selling to the court and nobility and wanted to be accepted.

Lacking recordings from the period, one must string together such a series of items to get an idea of what accents were like, But, all in all, I find these, taken together, show that the American accent is the English original and that the English changed.

Not on the subject of accents, but looking at vocabulary, some of the things that the English find odd in the US are not inventions of Americans, but merely went out of use in England. Fall vs. autumn, e.g. I saw a video of Prince Charles expounding regarding several American linguistic usages he found unfortunate and almost unforgivable. They were all things that the English had abandoned, not that Americans had invented.

I started off on this rampage immediately after seeing the question and I note now, as I am looking for the “send comment” button that at least part of my contention is to be found in Mr Ong’s answer. I apologize if I am merely reiterating unduly.

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