Whose language is it anyway?

brit-ame

One advantage to having a laptop at hand most of the day is that I can instantly find answers to almost any idle question that crosses my mind. No waiting to go to the library or ask a more knowledgeable person. Ah, technology.

Recently I wondered, apparently for the first time in my life, when and why Americans dropped their British pronunciation of the English language. (If you already know, don’t go spoiling my story.) It’s our common language, after all, and originated in England, the mother country. Presumably then, the colonists brought it with them to America. So when and why did Americans drop the accent and stop speaking like Brits?

News flash (to me, anyway). We didn’t stop speaking like Brits. They stopped speaking like us. Deliberately.

It seems that after the revolution, a lot of newly well-to-do English folks, seeking to distinguish themselves from their working class neighbors, deliberately adopted a new “non-rhotic” accent, or one where the letter r is often not pronounced. The result was, for example, “hard” sounding more like “hahd” and “butter” sounding like “buttuh.” Officially called “Received Pronunciation,” it spread across most of Britain, becoming the typical British accent we hear today.

Why then, you may ask, are there still places in the US — New York, Boston, Charleston, and Savannah, for example — where local accents tend to be non-rhotic and more like British English? These were port cities whose trade routes kept them closely in touch with England, and their class-conscious citizens were quick to adopt the new British accent.

I confess that to my Oklahoma-trained ear,  British English has always sounded a bit snooty, like someone “putting on airs.” Turns out that’s exactly what happened.

____________________

More on the subject:

Why Do Americans and Brits Have Different Accents? (LiveScience.com)

When Did Americans Lose Their British Accents? (MentalFloss.com)

Rhoticity in English (Wikipedia)



Categories: language

30 replies

  1. Interesting post! I learned something new! 🙂

  2. Why are we called Brits? We are not! We are either English, Scots, Irish or Welsh, I for one object to being either an Irishman or Scot although I wouldn’t mind being a Welshman for then I should probably sing delightfully and of course be a TRUE Englishman; not an Anglo Saxon Englishman.

    The last of the true English after a big battle somewhere around Glastonbury where I spent some time as an evacuee during WWII high tailed it across the border into the depths of Wales.

    I do think too that your expression British accent is somewhat erroneous, If you’re referring to the English accent there is no such thing, the people in London (Cockneys like me) find it impossible to understand Englishmen from the west country or the midlands and the northern counties. I imagine that the Americans by an large in the early days would have spoken with either a London accent or a west country accent.

    At least ALL Americans are understood.

    After the invasion of Europe during WWII in France signs went up everywhere ” English spoken; American understood”.

    Believe it or not if I now hear a recording of me speaking I have some difficulty in understanding what I am saying, my accent still after 65 years in Australia still sounds Cockney (think Michael Caines natural voice) which is I suppose the result of hearing the Australian English for all those years.

    I do wish though that y’all would learn to spell correctly, Damn that Mr. Webster! 🙄

    I do believe this comment is as long as your post 😮

    • Just curious based on your initial comment. Was that just a bit of light sarcasm in your opening question or is the term “Brits” now days actually frowned upon?

      You are right, most Americans are understood unless you are texting one… then all bets are off! 🙂

      • Actually Alan,it was quite serious from my point of view, I’m a pre-war Englishman, days of Empire and all that stuff; The majority of the present day occupants of England probable do a Rhett Butler, although I can’t speak for the WASP’s I do suspect that it does raise a few hackles.

        In a sense it’s like calling anybody from the North American continent a Cancuck or a Yank or a Cherokee or Mex.

        It’s wrong; and being an old fashioned/old school type of Englishman I don’t like being referred to as a Brit,.

        Having lived in Australia these past 65 years I have no objection to being called a Pom as I would have had no objections to our American cousins calling me a Limey had I have migrated to the US instead.

        And now I’m off to take my daily dose of fitamens to keep me alive 🙄 😀

        • Thanks for your brief lesson, it is quite appreciated. It is amazing at times given how close a people we are, given our roots and national ties, how little we sometimes know about things such as you speak. I would have actually thought Limey to be somewhat offensive. Thanks again!

          :D… well, keeping fit with those fitamens is a good thing at our age, just be sure you stay out of surgery! 🙂

          • It was too much surgery that put me on the fitamens, if the doc’s hadn’t removed my stomach 7 months ago I wouldn’t have needed them today 😦

            The expression Limey is, I think, a back handed compliment stemming from the days when English seamen sucked on limes for the fitamen ‘C’ to ward off scurvy, which everything considered was a pretty smart thing to do. ❗

            • “English spoken; American understood”. I’d heard that as a child and thought it was a joke. Thanks for relaying the actual history.
              American English ( although it does have regional differences ) has/is become a mix of so many languages. I still spell “grey” rather than “gray” both were considered correct when I was in school, with the latter being the Americanized/more modern version at the time.
              Thanks for sharing all your language observations. Enjoyed it

    • “Brit” was sloppy and careless on my part. By it I meant someone from Great Britain, but that of course includes more than England. (I think a lot of Americans mean an Englishman or someone from England when they say “Brit.”) Also made the assumption (never assume!) that readers were aware of cockney and the other “lower class” accents from which the “upper class” was trying to separate itself (even if their only exposure was “My Fair Lady”). The new “received pronunciation” is what I think of as the typical educated English accent today. Maybe I’ve seen “My Fair Lady” once too often.

      I’ve heard some Cockney and other accents that I could scarcely identify as English, but that’s true even here in the US. I’ve seen some US accents on TV that, had they not been subtitled, I would not have understood at all. That’s disconcerting — to be told the speaker is an American speaking English and you still can’t understand them.

      I don’t doubt that being in Australia so long has made a huge difference in your accent. (But who doesn’t love an Aussie accent!) One of my high school friends moved to Rome right after graduation and I didn’t see her again for 20 or 30 years. By then her English had such a heavy Italian accent that I could scarcely understand her.

      • Believe it or not PT I still have a slight Cockney accent, I’m rarely mistaken for an Australian, here I’m always picked as a Pom; there has been some improvement over the years, I no longer introduce myself as Brian Smiff, I can now actually pronounce Smith correctly! 🙄 O_o o_O 😀

        • I had to look up “Pom.” That’s a new term for me. As for pronouncing your name, I’ve always thought the person bearing the name gets to dictate its pronunciation, and everybody else should respect that person’s preference. Smiff or Smith — it’s whatever you say it is.

  3. Well, I for one love the English accent. And not just because I am a “Doc Martin” fan. Which, by the way, taught me that in the UK a doctor’s office is called “surgery” and the word ‘vitamin’ is pronounced “fit-a-men”. Now what’s not to love about that. 🙂

    I should confess that as accents go, I actually pretty much enjoy them all. 🙂

    • Oooops… this was suppose to be a reply to Lord Beari of Bow! 🙂

    • It does sound a bit like a joke, emanating from our Yankee cousins naturally, they do like to take the occasional swipe at we old school English, however we bear it with our usual well known Stoicism; says he tongue in cheek
      :mrgreen:

    • Your mention of Doc Martin and the word surgery, it will probably interest you to know that surgeons throughout the British Commonwealth don’t have a doctors surgery(office) they have “rooms” Also until recently these same surgeons were never called “Doctor” always “Mister”, unless they’d been of service to the crown when they may well have been Sir. They are also FRCS OR FRACS etc much more distinguished than a mere MD,

      This all stems from the days when doctors did not recognize surgeons as being men of medicine and had to work from barber shops, To know there was a surgeon in attendance the barbers pole had the red scrolls running down/through it to signify the blood this is still the emblem of the barbers shops today.

      The Royal Navy never had doctors only surgeons aboard their ships, for obvious reasons.
      Just a bit more useless information 😀

      • Surgeons have also been denigrated in the US as being just glorified mechanics or plumbers (at least that was the case some years ago). And I’ve known some that I thought were like that. But certainly not most or all. Depends a lot on the type of surgery in question.

        • I have great respect for the three surgeons who have worked their magic on me,Doc Fogarty in 2006 guaranteed me between 6 and 8 years when I was told that 1 -2 years at most without surgery for my prostate cancer,
          In 2011 Doc Adams who opened up my carotids after a stroke and told me after 3 year that he expects me to last til I’m 150, and finally Doc Sandroussi who whipped my stomach out in June 2014.

          I have an imaginary Pantheon to where these 3 Gods reside and I bow to them every morning when I awaken! 😀

      • Goodness, sounds quite confusing to this American. If I’m ever in Australia and have a medical issue I may have to ‘ring you up’ for advice. Want to make sure I just get fitamins and not end up having my stomach removed or something worse… 😀

        • Medicine does sound kind of wild down under, doesn’t it? I suppose it’s just s matter of learning to navigate a different system. Trouble enough right now trying to navigate our own system, though I confess that to date, despite my trepidation, Medicare has been easier to deal with than anything that’s come before.

  4. I didn’t know that Brits was considered offensive by some.. I’ll stop using it.

  5. ‘Tis an example of a meme, albeit one culturously initiated. Babel survives!

"Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance." ~ Plato

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: