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The Evolution of The American Accent

Pinpointing just what defines an American accent is almost as difficult as tracing its evolution.

Pinpointing just what defines an American accent is almost as difficult as tracing its evolution. From the inception of the American colonies 400 years ago, the majority of American colonists carried a distinct London English Accent. However, four hundred years can take its toll, and as such the Americans began to speak more relaxed and differentiated. Some phonologists will often assert that there are five distinct accents within the United States: Western, Northern, North Eastern, Midland, and Southern. Mainly, however, people will group the accents into three “mega groupings”: Southern, North Eastern, and General American.

Many people believe the origins of the American accent are due in large part to the uneducated nature of Americans during the 17th through 19th centuries. Rich Americans were usually few and far between and appointed by the British King George to preside over colonial matters. As the 19th century came about, and America got its independence, a number of different institutions were brought about to bring an educated academia to the States. The progression of dialects slowed with the Upper classes, as they were taught the “proper ways” to speak American English, and instructed with a more varied vocabulary. The Lower classes, on the other hand, continued to evolve from many generations of Eastern European immigration. It is assumed that the poor Americans and new immigrants combined their accents to form many of the “un-proper” forms of American English.

It is no stranger to many people that the South was far-less educated than the North. This does not assert any sort of regional superiority based on intellect, but Universities and other institutions of enlightenment were late to bloom in the South. Even to this day, the Southern (often more Conservative) states remain the least Educated. The most educated, fast-speaking North-Easterners tend to hold on to their accents and are less likely to live in rural areas.

George Washington was once described as speaking “intellectually” but “firm”, and was one of the models (as seen by those who elected him) for the ideal, new American. He probably carried very little respect for aristocrats and maybe was one of the founders of the original North American English accent. The speaking style of his colleagues in the continental congress, half-intellectual British influence with aggressive reformist rhetoric, was also similar. Thus, our founding fathers laid a new country to be started out, with confident people who would carry one different ways of communication throughout the land.


- State Master, Best Educated Index

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