When Did Americans Start Talking Without an English Accent?

Patrick_Henry_speaking_before_the_Virginia_Assembly_cropped

This is an interesting piece from linguist Chi Luu.  She asks “When Did Colonial America Gain Linguistic Independence?

The story of America’s linguistic independence is not so simple as some believe. Of course, most colonial Americans certainly did not sound like your average modern Brit does today, but nor did they sound like the Queen. By the time America was ready to consciously uncouple itself from the mother country, it had long since achieved a kind of linguistic independence. Thanks to a remarkable kind of linguistic melting pot process, early Americans spoke with a standard dialect all their own that was often met with approval by English observers, in contrast to how certain American accents are sometimes judged today.

American colonists often surprised their British counterparts by the fairly uniform and standard way they had of speaking, across the colonies, regardless of their regional, family or class backgrounds. In 1770, an English visitor remarked:

“The colonists are composed of adventurers, not only from every district of Great Britain and Ireland, but from almost every other European government…Is it not therefore reasonable to suppose that the English language must be greatly corrupted by such a strange admixture of various nations? The reverse is however true. The language of the immediate descendants of such promiscuous ancestry is perfectly uniform, and unadulterated; nor has it borrowed any provincial, or national accent from its British or foreign parentage.”

From the early eighteenth century, way before any political independence even a glint in John Adams’s eye (especially since he hadn’t actually been born yet), this apparent linguistic homogeneity and egalitarianism was noted by observers as proof that, while British English speakers could easily reveal details about their background through their speech, it was much harder to pinpoint an American speaker’s background in the same way.

Read the entire piece at JSTOR Daily.

One thought on “When Did Americans Start Talking Without an English Accent?

  1. It’s a bit dated but David Hackett Fischer’s “Albion’s Seed” explores how the major migrations from the British Isles (the Protestant ones, anyway) helped shape American regional cultural traits, including dialects.

    Like

Comments are closed.