General Question

sarahsugs's avatar

Why don't North Americans still speak with a British accent?

Asked by sarahsugs (2888 points ) September 15th, 2007

Seeing as the colonists were British. And how did people in the South come to have a Southern drawl, versus a Boston accent, versus a Minnesotan? Are accents still changing/appearing? What are the newest ones?

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10 Answers

mirza's avatar

not all the colonists were British . Starting in the late 16th century, the British, the French, the Spanish, and the Dutch began to colonize eastern North America. By the late 1700s, germans started to settle. So alll these cultures intertwined to bring about the different accent . Inititally the british colonist spoke in british accent but as future generations came about, the accents evolved to the current state

ezraglenn's avatar

as more and more people from all over the world emmigrated to america, the “american” accent was born, a melding of all the world’s inflections and tonalities.

donok's avatar

actually, there is this strange phenomena qith accents -they tend to change less in the non-native lands and change quicker in the originating nations. So, the current English accents we know are actually a fairly recent development and they say that the English of colonial times spoke with an accent that sounds more like our present day Blue Ridge Mountain people of North Carolina. The same is true of the French spoken in Louisiana – it is closer to colonial-times French than present day France.

osakarob's avatar

First, may I offer a few definitions before commenting on the phenomenon you ask about. A regional or geographic dialect is a variety of a language specific to a given geographical region. They evolve constantly and are identifiable by 3 qualities:
1. The Grammar used
2. The lexicon (or vocabulary)
3. The pronunciation.

In the view of most American linguists, all humans speak with a regional dialect. This reflects the linguistic habits of the place they live or grew up. British scholars are skittish about the word dialect. They prefer to use the word accent instead. British linguists use the word dialect only to describe forms of English that are markedly “non-standard”. Thus a British linguist will speak of a “Yorkshire dialect” only if the person is using Yorkshire dialect grammar and pronunciation and lexicon. If on the other hand, the speaker is “educated” and is using Standard English grammar, British linguists consider him to be speaking “Standard English” with a “Yorkshire Accent”. Which brings us to your question.

When we Americans think of British English, we are referring to RP (“Received Pronunciation”) You may have also heard of it as BBC English or “The Queen’s English”. When a regional dialect spreads among people of a particular race or class, regardless of where they live, a SOCIAL DIALECT evolves. In the UK, it is quite common for person raised speaking a regional dialect to learn RP as a social dialect to use in formal situations.
The British did not always use RP. It began in 1700AD. Before that, for example in 1600s, when Shakespeare produced his works and the King James Bible was made, there was no RP!!!! Scholars generally agree now thanks to vowel analsis in poetry that Shakespeare spoke in what we might think of today as a Mid Western American accent.
It is not understood where or why RP developed. Some speculate that it developed as a social mechanism among the English elite for distancing themselves from the colonists and other “riff raff” at the time. Writers at that time commented about the sudden insurgence of changes in vowels, but there was no “formal declaration” or anything like that.

Most Americans today speak in General American English (GAE). This is the English that most of the early settlers spoke. As populations moved toward the center or our continent, they carried with them the language of the time. However,
after RP developed newer “immigrants” brought with them the changes and often settled in the large metropolitan cities. Which is why we have “Boston accents” which resemble RP, but people in Minnesota still speak with what we would consider “the ealiest colonial sounding english”. The “Coastal South” regional dialect is a blend of GAE and RP. Shakespeare probably sounded not like Kenneth Brannaugh, but William H. Macy. It is hard to believe, isn’t it?!

Accents are still changing. The biggest regional changes in the US now is called the Great American vowel shift. The “aw” and “o” sounds are beginning to show some change. Ask your friends around the country if they pronounce these two words the same way or differently: Dawn and Don.

It is very important to remember that dialectical uniformity, not diversity, is the most striking feature of English pronunciation in North America. Our sound system is remarkably consistent. GAE can be heard in the most dialectally distinctive areas.

gooch's avatar

@donk you are right the French that we speak in Louisiana is dated to the French language of the year 1500. What makes it “Cajun French” is some influances of the local indians. The language has evolved to include words that did not exist to the French in 1500. This would include things like inventions, native plants, animals, new traditons and foods for example .

hossman's avatar

And just about all other French dialects complain about the French dialects spoken in Paris and Quebec. These dialects of French have significantly different physical uses of the mouth on certain vowels and consonants than “standard French.” If you go way back in the Appalachian hills, you can find dialects that sound more like modern Irish than modern American, as the Scots, Irish and Welsh that have settled those areas have preserved their dialects.

susanc's avatar

And there’s a generational-accent thing that happens. The kids of immigrants don’t speak like their parents, they speak like the kids they go to school with. Even if
you go to school exclusively with the kids of immigrants like yourself, you’ll develop a
kind of between-speak which I believe is the technical meaning of the word “creole” -
a combination of two languages which forms a separate language.
It appears that each generation of Americans (and maybe other peoples?) likes to invent a way of speaking that is their own, as we also claim a kind of generational music, to distinguish ourselves from our parents. So you have the Valley Girl thing, and the hiphop thing, and what I call the Sarah Vowell thing: a scratchy, back-of-the-throat, somewhat pitiful-sounding voicing of extremely erudite thoughts. No one who grew up before computers talked like this, but now, if you’re hip, you’re at risk for it.

hossman's avatar

When I was in Austria, our tour guide was the son of first generation Vietnamese immigrants to Austria. I just couldn’t get used to a person with Asian features speaking English with a Germanic accent.

Comedian's avatar

I still speak with a British accent….But I moved here from Chesire like 4 years ago. lol

aprilsimnel's avatar

I had a Thai roommate once years ago who spoke with a German accent. Her family had decamped to Berlin in the 60s when she was 3 or so.

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