Here's something that's always stumped me: If the USA was settled by people fleeing prosecution from the British, why don't we (in present day) speak with British accents? All things considered, the US is still a "young" country - this didn't happen all that long ago. Did the language change that fast? Are the accents we commonly associate with places like Boston or New York City still "remnants" of the British accent?

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    Keep in mind that America also consists of immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Africa, France, Spain, etc. The "American accent" is probably an amalgamation of all of those different accents. Jun 16, 2014 at 18:46
  • We are heavily influenced by our environment. Weather is quite different in England compared most of the United States. At least that's my theory. Jun 16, 2014 at 18:46
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    Also, it's not like American English is a child of British English. British English and American English are more like siblings, with a shared "parent" English that has evolved into the different "species" of English that are around now. Jun 16, 2014 at 18:51
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    There isn't a single "British" accent nor a single "American" one, and some American accents may have more characteristics in common with some British accents as they do with other American.
    – choster
    Jun 16, 2014 at 18:58
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    @JimBeam - there's nothing dubious about the comments: phonology is part of language (otherwise, why post a question about accents to "English Language and Usage"?). Anyway, there have always been multiple accents in Britain and the US, and all of those accents have drifted over the centuries. If you introduced someone from Eastern Yorkshire to someone from Western Lancashire (neighboring counties) in the 18th century, they might not have been able to understand one another. Jun 16, 2014 at 21:24

2 Answers 2


we all should be really amazed that the British, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and all the English-speaking Caribbean nations can easily understand and speak to one another after centuries without the benefit of electronic communications and the great distances separating them. To wonder over minor accent and idiomatic speech differences seems to be niggling. All the native English-speaking peoples have no trouble at all understanding and speaking to each other. There are still remnants of the British accent in the Southeastern states, especially Virginia among the Virginia aristos, descendants of early plantation owners--the Virginia 'horsey' set ('Weekend polo matches') and also in the Carolinas.

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    I don't disagree with anything you said, but this isn't really an answer to the question. Jun 16, 2014 at 18:59
  • The present British "received Pronunciation" is unlikely to have existed at the time of the American War of Independence. It may well have been a development of the nineteenth-century - to accompany the emergence of a strong middle class - following industrialisation. But the actual written language in Britain and America has changed little in the last 400 years. Both Americans and British find the English of the 1611 Bible (James I) easy enough to follow. The history of the spoken word is difficult to study, for the obvious reason that there are no phono recordings before the 20th century.
    – WS2
    Jul 22, 2015 at 8:18

It's probably incorrect to assume that the British accent hasn't changed since the USA was founded. It makes sense that different, divergent accents emerged over time. Whether the British used to sound American, or the American used to sound British; or more likely some combination of the two, it makes sense that distinct differences emerged over time.

What I'm saying is that all languages change all the time. If you take one language and give it to two cultures then over time the small changes each culture makes could add up to a vast discrepancy.

  • Some phonologists argue that some U.S. regional accents more closely approximate that of Shakespeare's stage than any present-day British accent. Jun 16, 2014 at 19:34
  • That's an interesting concept. Indeed, I am taking it as a given that the British accent was very similar to present day - it may not have been. But assuming that they evolved at at least similar rates (and that they even evolved at all!) wouldn't they still sound somewhat similar. The first Americans were actually British so we should still sound closer to British, then not . . . no? Jun 16, 2014 at 20:36
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    @JimBeam Your premise is flawed. Americans do sound closer to Brits than not. Compare the difference between British English and American English, which started diverging 400 years ago, with this reading of Chaucer which is only 200 years older than that. Language changes faster than you realize.
    – ghoppe
    Jun 16, 2014 at 20:46

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