It's estimated that there are somewhere around 400 distinct accents to be found in Great Britain alone. Most experts would agree that there are around 40 in ALL of Anglo North America. Why such a drastic drop? Well, for starters, people have been speaking English in Britain for a much longer period of time....
Best answer: It's estimated that there are somewhere around 400 distinct accents to be found in Great Britain alone. Most experts would agree that there are around 40 in ALL of Anglo North America. Why such a drastic drop? Well, for starters, people have been speaking English in Britain for a much longer period of time. Historically, people were much more sedentary everywhere in the world than they are today. Prior to the settlement of the New World, most people who were born in Yorkshire grew up in Yorkshire, spent their adult years there, and died and were buried there. The same is true for people from the Midlands, East Anglia and every other region.
That sedentary lifestyle enabled very strong regional accents to form. Everyone has heard the story about sailors from the North attempting to converse with people in Kent and the locals taking them for foreigners. Hundreds of years ago there were many, many more accents to be found in Britain than there are today. Why? Well, firstly because people are much more migratory than they were in the past. People from all over Britain attend university in other regions, take jobs in other regions, marry someone from another region and settle there, etc. Not to mention that the advent of television and the internet has made the world a lot smaller than it used to be.
To get back to the United States, the differences that exist today are a product of early settlement patterns. By far the most accents (the largest number of easily distinguishable accents), can be found in the Northeast and New England. Yes, that was the first part of the country to be settled in great numbers, but it's also the place where the largest concentration of urban areas existed during the early days, and it's still a very densely populated area today. Many of the settlers that came to the Northeast and New England were from East Anglia, whereas the majority of people who settled in the Southern Colonies came from Northern England. In some areas, the majority didn't positively dwarf the number of people from elsewhere, but when it did, the particulars of that group's speech patterns tended to become much more prevalent, and remained so over time.
Add to this the fact that the United States was always the complete opposite of Britain when it came to mobility and migration. Many people disembarked in Boston or New York and then settled elsewhere just as many people disembarked in Charleston or in Virginia and didn't stay. People lived alongside neighbours that didn't sound anything like them, they became friends with people who didn't sound anything like them and they married people who didn't sound anything like them. And new people were arriving all the time. In later years there were waves of Irish, Dutch, German, Italian, Scandinavian, Polish and Russian settlers whose accents were added to the pot and who contributed to the general dynamic.
The places in the United States where the accents have remained relatively unchanged for the longest amount of time are those places where there hasn't been anywhere near as much of an influx of outside influence. The typical Appalachian Hillbilly accent is a great example of this. Many of the speakers of Appalachian dialects preserve hopelessly outdated colloquialisms that were brought over by early settlers. When they use expressions such as "sit a spell" they're using vocabulary items that were common in the speech of people from Northern England centuries ago.
Why do Americans use "yeah" instead of "aye"? Well, because it was originally a dialect word from the Home Counties that was brought to the Northeast and quickly spread. And as new waves of immigrants came into cities like Boston and New York and Philadelphia and Baltimore they wanted to assimilate so they purposely imitated the speech patterns of the people who were already living there. The modern Boston accent doesn't sound exactly what the typical Bostonian sounded like even two generations ago, the same is true in Brooklyn and Philly and Baltimore and on and on.
Many immigrants tended to settle in clumps and in pockets. Upstate New York had a very sizable Dutch community and some of those people were still speaking Dutch at home up until the beginning of the 20th Century. There were groups of Scandinavians in the Midwest, Finns in Michigan, Poles in Chicago, Russians in Western Pennsylvania, and their speech had a very marked effect on the local accent as it took shape.
As people moved west, they took their accents with them. The speech of people from the Great Plains is easily distinguished from that of someone from the Deep South or from Texas or New Orleans. That's where the Seattle and California accents came from, but those places haven't been populated for as long as places in the east, so the accents tend to be more watered down and influenced by a greater number of other accents.
Historians recorded that there were already big differences in the way Americans spoke before the Revolution, so it's something that seems to have started pretty much right away, but in the 1800s there was a belief that the speech of Britons and Americans would diverge to the point where the two peoples would have great difficulty communicating, but instead, the complete opposite happened.
I'm Irish and my dialect is Munster - Waterford to be precise, and I can immediately tell when someone is from North or South Dublin, Cork City, Limerick, Armagh, Connemara, etc. But Americans cannot do that as easily because while people from the Northeast TEND to sound similar to one another, and people from the Midwest, Deep South, West Coast TEND to sound similar to one another, there are still very wide disparities between one accent and another. In Yorkshire, you still meet people today who claim that they can tell that someone is from up or down the valley simply by the person's accent. Likewise, people from Leeds can immediately tell that someone is from Bradford even though the cities are essentially contiguous. The same is true for Toonies and Mackem, Scouser and Brummie and Manc, etc.
3 days ago