Whose language is it anyway?
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)