All this time, we have been learning about the difference between British and American accent. You know it when you hear it. But have you ever wondered how these two accents came to be? Online magazine Mental Floss tried to answer the big question in the article “When did Americans lose their British accent?” As you may have known, the history of these two countries are strongly related.
The first English colony in the land that would be America arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1667. They certainly carried the language and accent that they used in their homeland, England. So how did their accent change? Now here comes the most interesting part … It wasn’t the American accent that went through changes, it was the British accent! The current American accent is actually much closer to the ‘original’ British accent.
We must first remember that British and American accents are very diverse. There are various accents used in the UK, such as Geordie, cockney, or Yorkshire. American accents also varied. There are Southern accent, and even black people have their own accent.
What we call “British accent” is actually a standardised Received Pronounciation (RP). Also known as Public School English or BBC English. What we call “American accent” is actually ‘general American accent’ or ‘newscaster accent’ or ‘Network English.’
Back to the story about the English colony in America. Remember, we first had the technology to record human voice in 1860. 300 years after the colony arrived, the difference between the British and American accents was already apparent. Since recording technology wasn’t available in those 300 years, we can’t say for sure when the change happened. But changes in British society might provide us the clue to the answer.
To explain that, first we need to know the major difference between British and American accent: Rhotacism.
Rhotacism is the excessive use of the letter ‘R’ in pronunciation. American accent is rhotic and speakers pronounce the ‘R’ in words such as ‘hard’. Meanwhile, British accent is non-rhotic, making the way they pronounce ‘hard’ sounds more like ‘hahd’.
In the 19th century, there was a hot trend among the upper and upper middle class in southern England to become non-rhotic. The trend was to not pronounce the ‘R’. It became the signifier of class and status. This posh accent was later standardised as Received Pronunciation, and being taught widely by tutors to social climbers.
Slowly but sure, the accent spread across England and is being used by people across levels and professions. Across the pond, there were also societal changes that further strengthen the use of American accent. Big cities like New York, Chicago, and Detroit became the new centers of economic power in the region. The cities are populated by Scots-Irish and North English migrants. Southern English elites have no significance in there. The Received Pronunciation then lost its influence among people in the cities.
Source: Mental Floss
- Came to be. Arti: asal mulanya.
- Strongly related. Arti: berhubungan erat.
- Apparent. Arti: nyata, terlihat, tampak.
- Signifier. Arti: penanda.
- Posh. Arti: mewah.
- Social climber. Arti: orang yg ingin meningkatkan status sosial (dengan memakai barang mewah, mengubah cara bicara).
- Across the pond. Arti: di seberang Lautan Atlantik, cara orang Inggris menyebut Amerika.
- Societal change. Arti: perubahan masyarakat.
- Further strengthen. Arti: semakin memperkuat.
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