Where Did the American Accent Come From?

The American accent was influenced by immigrants and British colonizers.
The American accent was influenced by immigrants and British colonizers.

American English is the set of varieties of English language spoken by Americans. It is the most used language in the United States and has been accorded the official status quo in 32 of the 50 state governments. It is considered the de facto language but is not the official language due to its widespread use in the US. The custom of the English language in the US was a result of British colonization, which commenced in North America in the 17th century and immigration occurring in the 18th and 19th centuries. The American accent thus developed into new dialects due to the influence of the British colonizers and immigrants from Germany, Africa, and Dutch.

History of American English

In the 18th century, whether declaring America’s independence or pledging loyalty of King George, pronunciation were very much the same. There was no distinction between American and British English as both accents were largely rhotic. Rhotic speakers, which was considered as traditional American English, pronounced the “r’’ sound in words like “winter”. During the American Revolution, non-rhotic speech came into use among the Britons who had amerced wealth during the Industrial Revolution. They wanted to distinguish themselves from other commoners hence cultivated the prestigious non-rhotic pronunciations to demonstrate their new status.

After attaining independence, the United States expanded westwards and a new wave of immigrants arrived. Each group that settled on the American soil had its unique impact on the Traditional American English. The elite British rulers introduced their non-rhotic speech in America and changed the pronunciations of rhotic speech. Since the Northeast kept close ties with the British, they incorporated some British names in their language. Slaves brought from West Africa led to the development of African American Vernacular English which formed the basis of accents for African Americans. Germany, which brought the largest wave of immigrants adopted the nasal tones and introduced their own clipped speech patterns which form the basis of the American accent. Scandinavian immigrants from northern Europe brought about their old world accents while the Russian Yiddish-speaking Jews from Eastern Europe introduced many new words and numerous turns of phrases in English.

The practice of incorporating new vocabulary items to the traditional American English commenced with the borrowing of names for unaccustomed flora, fauna, and topography from the different groups that settled in the USA. Industrial revolution technological advancement experienced in the 20th century brought in new distinctive phrases and idioms to the traditional American English.


Today, what is termed as the American accent is an umbrella accent perceived to be neutral and free of regional characteristics. It lacks certain noticeable sociolinguistic salient features such as non-rhotic speech, ethnic features such as the clear pronunciation of letter “l”, and social-economic features.

Traditional US regional accents are on the verge of extinction due to the influence of social, mass, and mainstream media. Children learn less about their native languages and cultures from the agents of socialization in society such as their parents, grandparents, and teachers. They are more glued to YouTube, Disney Channels, and Nickelodeon whose main characters speak in standard Midwestern American accents that children adopt and abandon their own accents.


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