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On the Origin of The American Accent

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posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 03:07 PM

Originally posted by DISRAELI

My Devon grandmother pronounced the letter "z" in the "American" way (it always puzzled me at the time), which lends support to the idea that the Devon usage had an influence.

You mean Z"ed"?

When I came across that it puzzled me...

Besides Double U (W)

it is the only letter that employs a consonant in the vocalization to explain a consonant

All the other letters use vowels to support the consonant sound


so IMO Z(ee) seems to be more uniform, as opposed to ZeD

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 03:22 PM
reply to post by Nosred

The best book I have ever read which explains where the different American accents come from is Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer.

He points out the different accents in America and the parts which were settled by people from the UK and how it affected their accents and also the time period of the settlers also made a difference. For instance hillbilly country being settled by people from the border area's of Scotland and England and the Scots Irish, who brought the expression 'any road' and other colloquialisms lwith them.

Also their manner of dress and religious affiliations which continued to influence present day Americans.

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 03:22 PM

off-topic post removed to prevent thread-drift


posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 03:25 PM
Thanks for all the responses guys! I'm thinking about making a series of threads about language. I've already got an idea for the next one if I ever get around to writing it.

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 03:38 PM
There is no American accent anymore than there is a British accent or a Spanish or French accent. There are various accents throughout the country.

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 03:44 PM
You mustn't forget the influence of Irish accents, as well.

Not being from the USA myself, I'm not entirely sure which parts of the country their different accents come from, but some sound very similar in intonation and certain pronunciations to some Irish accents ( especially the Northern Irish accent ).

It also appears to me that Canadian accents are more influenced by the Scottish, and this is how I tend to tell Canadians apart from Americans, due to their more Scottish sounding vowel sounds !

[edit on 5-9-2010 by Sherlock Holmes]

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 03:44 PM
reply to post by pacific_waters

I think these are kind of sub-accents. They all make up one big accent.

Most people in America think all British people sound alike, whether they're from Liverpool, Manchester, you name it. I don't live in the UK but I assume they think the same about us.

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 03:47 PM
reply to post by Sherlock Holmes

People's accents in New England sound similar to Irish accents sometimes, especially in Boston. I think this is because of a large number of people immigrating here from Ireland.

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 04:27 PM
Surely a more reasonable explanation is that it is the American accent/dialect that has changed the most, becoming an amalgamation of its constituent accents/dialects/cultures/whatever.

It has become reasonably uniform over an area that dwarfs the British Isles, whereas there is far more variation between English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish accents and the American accent bears little resemblance to any of them. If the accents of those 4 countries were frozen in time in America then they would have had to be extremely similar to begin with and then change drastically afterwards which doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

I'm sure that most Americans can recognise a Scottish or Irish accent, the places you have mentioned so far are English.

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 04:52 PM
reply to post by Soshh

Of course Americans can tell the difference between Scottish, Irish, and English accents. I was responding to a post by a member who said countries have several different accents. I used England as an example for my response.

America wasn't colonized by Irish and the Scots. It was an English colony made up of mostly English colonists. Most of the Irish and Scots came later. I never said the Irish and Scottish accents changed (although I'm sure they have). I merely claimed that the American accent is closer to the accent from older forms of English than the current British accent is.

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 05:22 PM
reply to post by pacific_waters

that's not true though, yes there are different accents within all of these countries, but if you hear someon from england whether they're from london, manchester, or liverpool, you recognize them as english, just as someone from oklahoma will be recognized as american just like someone from new york or north dakota even. i'm from oklahoma and the accent comes mainly from a collaboration of scotch-irish, geman and native languages, making it southern sounding but not as much as say georgia or alabama, being in the navy with all the different people, linguistics has become a hobby of mine, and i can tell the difference from someone from texas and someone from arkansas, however you really cant even go by state, its more of a regional thing, i'm from the ozarks and that has it's own heavily scotch-irish thing goin on just as north dakota for the most part is influenced by germanic and nordic roots. as my was born to dust bowl refugees in california and my mom is from has irish-german roots of north dakota, and i grew up in oklahoma, my accent has it's own unique characteristics, i guess what i'm getting at is that is where accents come from, what your made up of, it's kinda like our ancesters coming out today in ourselves, well hopefully that makes sense to someone!

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 05:32 PM
I want someone to show me "an American" and I'll show you 10 more that don't fit your description let alone speak English English, Amigo; but they are American's. How about comparing inner city English to rural Midwest English using cities within the Midwest region for micro-regional accents.

America has always had regional dialects and accents. It's a land of separate people with a common language.

This one America accent is just the kind of silly crap tearing the country apart over stupid laws trying to define what an American is.

Back to topic, all the French SOB's sound alike to me. I have heard and spoke to people from different parts of England and there is a difference. The same applies to Mandarin Chinese, I've noticed different stressers in common words.

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 05:48 PM
reply to post by hinky

Yes we have different dialects but whether you're from a big city or a small rural town you can go anywhere in the English speaking world and people will be able to tell you're American by your accent.

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 07:03 PM
reply to post by LifeIsEnergy

I'm glad you liked it. I'm thinking about writing another thread on the subject of language and if I ever get around to it I'll let you know.

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 08:20 PM
I suspect you may have misunderstood some of the material.

Originally posted by Nosred
Part 1: Frozen in Time
When the British began to colonize North America the English accent sort of 'froze' in the colonies. So as the English accent had begun to change back in Britain, America's isolation caused our accent to change very little. Due to this, the modern American accent is closer to how Shakespeare would have sounded than the modern British accent is.

Actually, it isn't. As the Wikipedia article says, the melting pot of America meant that many diverse cultures contributed to our accents. The "rhotic" comment means that we pronounce some consonants in the same way that they did in the 1700's in England -- not that the accent is the same.

American accents on the East Coast, and in New England especially, sound noticeably similar to the British accent than does the rest of America.

Actually, Canadian accents are more similar, as are Australian simply because they were under English rule and had English administrators.

The American of the past had a tendency to use nouns as verbs, such as interview, advocate, corner, and torch. These are now common parts of American English. Some words with American origin were formed by altering existing words. Some of the words created this way include sundae, phony, buddy, and pesky.

This sort of assumes that the English (and speakers of other language) don't do this, when in fact they do. People in less educated areas use language in a manner that they don't in a place where they have been taught "proper language."

There are more regional accents than Wikipedia is acknowledging. Here in Texas, we can generally distinguish the East Texas accent (similar to but not the same as the Louisiana accent.) Folks in Dallas have a different Texas accent than those in El Paso. Native Americans have a very distinctive (but subtle) accent which can sound Western-ish but isn't.

Television has tended to homogenize many accents around the world, but if you listen (particularly in small towns) you can find very charming examples of accent.

I would like to recommend linguistics material by a writer (and PhD Linguist) who writes the most entertaining blogs ever -- Suzette Hayden Elgin. Here's a link to her old posts on an introduction to linguistics:

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 08:22 PM

Originally posted by Nosred
reply to post by Soshh
I merely claimed that the American accent is closer to the accent from older forms of English than the current British accent is.

But unless I have missed something major, in which case I apologise, your sources don't say anything that would make that the case. The only slightly relevant things that I can glean from them are that some words are pronounced the same and American-English is mostly rhotic as was Shakespearean-English.

An Englishman or anyone else could speak using American-English without speaking in an American accent. The rhotic thing isn’t really that relevant because for example the stereotypical English accent is rhotic and yet it is not closer to a rhotic American accent than a non-rhotic English accent. One source says that some pronunciations “froze” in America instead of evolving into Modern English, which is understandable and bordering on common sense, it doesn’t say anything about the accents being similar.

What you could perhaps say is that American-English would sound similar to Shakespearean-English if spoken by Shakespeare or another Englishman from that era, but that is still a massive stretch. What you are saying or at least what it appears that you are saying is that Englishmen from that era spoke with an American-esque accent which is certainly not true.

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 08:25 PM
reply to post by Byrd

I never said our accent was still the same. I said that the way Americans talk has changed very little compared to the way British people now talk. Why is this so hard for people to understand?

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 08:34 PM
Wikipedia is not the best source to use for things like this, good for skimming for information on subjects before researching using more accurate and indepth sources but intricate details such as accents and word development across countries/cultures is not really what Wikipedia should be used for, it is interesting though. Good thread, i always find it strange that i can understand much of American slang and people with very heavy accents yet they find it impossible to understand me...

[edit on 5-9-2010 by Solomons]

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 08:42 PM
reply to post by Solomons

Yeah, I couldn't find any better sources. Wikipedia's good enough though for the purposes of this thread.

posted on Sep, 5 2010 @ 08:48 PM
Hold on, I found a better source.

This is from the article:

A very large change took place in some accents of England that seems to have started in the seventeenth century. Speakers in parts the south and east of England started to pronounce /r/ only when it was followed by a vowel. This ed to changes in the way the vowels were pronounced. This change has spread over most of England, and is also found in accents (like Australian, Singapore, and New Zealand English) which developed from English accents of the last 300years (in these accents 'sauce' might be pronounced the same as 'source' and 'spa' pronounced the same as 'spar'). But accents which developed from English accents older than that (such as most US accents of English) still pronounce /r/ at the ends of words and before consonants. Because this is such a large change, the accents that have kept this 'post-vocalic r', like most kinds of US English, Scottish English, and Irish English, seem more like accents of the seventeenth century than do those of accents which have lost the /r/. But in those accents too, there have been many other changes in the last 400 years.

There you go, maybe that will help support my claim.

[edit on 5-9-2010 by Nosred]

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