Have you ever heard a person speak in a British accent and wonder when Americans lost their accent? You might be left thinking for a while, because Americans didn’t lose their accent; the British accent evolved from ours. In an oversimplification, there are two regional accents: American and British, and while several locations have their own style or accents, these are the easiest and most common major categories. Places like Boston, the Appalachian region, certain British islands, etc. may disagree, but like most things, there are always exceptions.
Most people assume that the British have always talked with their accent and the American colonists eventually started speaking differently. When Americans speak, they use a rhotic pronunciation when pronouncing the “r” in words like: car, park, your, and yard. The rhotic pronunciation is the original pronunciation in both countries and is seen through multiple historical reasons.
First, before recording devices the way to understand how a person spoke was by reading their writing, especially in personal letters. Until about 1775, most of these letters used this rhotic writing style. Around the time of the Industrial Revolution in England, the new emerging class of British social elites wanted to distinguish themselves from others. Books and writings began to show this non-rhotic style and officially became called the “Received Pronunciation” (north England, Scotland, and Ireland have traditionally kept their rhotic speech).
Changes in language tend to happen faster in urban areas, whereas rural areas tend to change slower or not at all. England, through their Industrial Revolution, became more urbanized, while America, who didn't industrialize on a major scale for several more decades, kept its accent mainly intact, with some subtle differences.
SO DID SHAKESPEARE SPEAK WITH AN ENGLISH ACCENT? Yes; however, it wasn’t with the English accent you would think of, but instead it would sound closer to the American accent used today. So the next time you hear a British accent, remember that it was the British accent, not America’s, that changed.
This is a major oversimplification as any linguist would tell you, but it briefly tries to explain why both people groups speak differently.
Written by Josh Yohe