I came across this on Stumbleupon and it answers a question I’ve always wondered: Did the Founding Fathers have English Accents?
The answer is more complicated that you think.
According to Nick Patrick:
Reading David McCullough’s 1776, I found myself wondering: Did Americans in 1776 have British accents? If so, when did American accents diverge from British accents?
The answer surprised me.
I’d always assumed that Americans used to have British accents, and that American accents diverged after the Revolutionary War, while British accents remained more or less the same.
Americans in 1776 did have British accents in that American accents and British accents hadn’t yet diverged. That’s not too surprising.
What’s surprising, though, is that those accents were much closer to today’s American accents than to today’s British accents. While both have changed over time, it’s actually British accents that have changed much more drastically since then.
First, let’s be clear: the terms â€œBritish accentâ€ and â€œAmerican accentâ€ are oversimplifications; there were, and still are, many constantly-evolving regional British and American accents. What many Americans think of as â€œthe British accentâ€ is the standardized Received Pronunciation, also known as â€œBBC English.â€
While most American accents are rhotic, the standard British accent is non-rhotic. (Rhotic speakers pronounce the â€˜R’ sound in the word â€œhardâ€; non-rhotic speakers do not.)
So, what happened?
In 1776, both American accents and British accents were largely rhotic.
It was around this time that non-rhotic speech took off in southern England, especially among the upper class; this â€œprestigeâ€ non-rhotic speech was standardized, and has been spreading in Britain ever since.
Most American accents, however, remained rhotic.
There are a few fascinating exceptions: New York and Boston accents became non-rhotic, perhaps because of the region’s British connections in the post-Revolutionary War era. Irish and Scottish accents are still rhotic.