This question has NEVER been asked, never mind answered, here. Goodness. Lighten up, people.

Again I must quote Shaw to illustrate a point or two before putting the question to you guys:

The fact that English is spelt conventionally and not phonetically makes the art of recording speech almost impossible. What is more, it places the modern dramatist, who writes for America as well as England, in a most trying position. Take for example my American captain and my English lady. I have spelt the word conduce, as uttered by the American captain, as cawndooce, to suggest (very roughly) the American pronunciation to English readers. Then why not spell the same word, when uttered by Lady Cicely, as kerndewce, to suggest the English pronunciation to American readers? To this I have absolutely no defence: I can only plead that an author who lives in England necessarily loses his consciousness of the peculiarities of English speech, and sharpens his consciousness of the points in which American speech differs from it; so that it is more convenient to leave English peculiarities to be recorded by American authors.

Blah-blah-blah. You can't help loving the guy, even when he's talking nonsense. Note one thing here, though: while parodying American peculiarities more or less correctly ("cawndooce"), the intrepid "author who lives in England" fails to see (or simply disregards) the fact that American readers (rhotic speakers that we are) might be puzzled by his rendering of the English version as he presents it. Kerrrrrrrrrndewce? Really? Ah, those Brits ...

It invariably takes me a few moments to adjust when I'm talking to "those Brits," or watching a BBC show. The point is - yes, the two versions are different. Now, to business.

What puzzles me is the fact that at some point in the past (say around Shakespeare's time) all English dialects must have been rhotic (as suggested by, well, the sheer presence of the letter "r" in the English alphabet, for one thing. Wait ... It gets better ... Some British authors and actors make it a point, when portraying British aristocracy, to actually roll their r's (the way Italians, Spaniards, and Russians roll theirs)).

Wow. Please bear with me.

There is a theory (don't hold me to it; I can't remember where I read it; I am frivolous like that) that Byron and the Shelleys, as well as General Howe and General Burgoyne, spoke a version of English that was a lot closer to the American version of today than the British one. Some proponents of this theory maintain that some kind of high-brow conspiracy took place in England towards the middle of the Nineteenth Century whose purpose was to distance the aristocracy from the rabble - well, phonetically: hence the missing r's, and some h's, and the inexplicable French-like nasality of certain sounds. (I thought you guys hated the French).

Needless to say, any dialect, no matter how artificial in the beginning, will sooner or later take on life of its own and develop into something lively and natural-sounding: it's merely a matter of time, and not much time, either, only a generation or two. There isn't a shred of affectation in run-of-the-mill British speech today.

My question, though, is this: is there any validity to the theory? Does the author of the theory, whoever he may be, have a point? Is there any actual evidence to support it?

  • It seems very unlikely. Sounds changes do often interact with class, but not always consciously, and a "conspiracy" seems ridiculous. The loss of r at the end of syllables is phonetically a natural development that has occured in other languages (such as German), so there's no a priori reason to assume it was an affectation.
    – herisson
    Oct 22, 2015 at 1:41
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    Tip: An "edit" like that will not gain you any sympathisers, support or, possibly, answers from the experts. (just saying) And as much as I like your fresh style, the question is a little too "rambling" for this site.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 22, 2015 at 2:40
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    I would imagine Shaw meant that Americans (at least those he knew and had spoken with) stressed both syllables in "conduce." I'm just guessing here.
    – Ricky
    Oct 22, 2015 at 4:22
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    @Ricky Don't you find my sincerity quite disarming, and my playfulness uplifting? Speaking only for myself, no and no.
    – deadrat
    Oct 22, 2015 at 8:09
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    @Ricky But when I leave the house, I keep running into disarmingly sincere and playfully uplifting people. Or maybe it's sincerely disarming and upliftingly playful.
    – deadrat
    Oct 22, 2015 at 8:20

1 Answer 1


I think I read that there is the influence of RP, or received pronunciation, where that accent is given prominence in the media, especially in the BBC. First I think it was through radio, which started in the 1920s. The language of power is in the SE of England. Standard English in Britain goes in the shape of a triangle from west London to Oxford and Cambridge.

  • Interesting. I admit I've never considered that angle.
    – Ricky
    Oct 22, 2015 at 5:05
  • The US was settled in a chaotic manner, but one might speculate that the marginalised (economically and incidentally linguistically) in the source country (Britain) made up a greater proportion of the immigrant cohort. Because of its 'cachet', British Upper class English and RP might have had an influence on the development of US English out of proportion to the number of immigrants speaking it, but it could be argued the US wasn't subject to the same cultural 'centralism' that allowed RP to subsequently dominate in the UK. Historically, conditions in the US were more generous to diversity.
    – John Mack
    Oct 22, 2015 at 8:50

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