Weekend Word Wrap: The development of American English

David K. Israel

I'd like to start this post by taking a breath so that we might all reflect on the last 6 months; just to note our blog's development and allow ourselves to take it in, to feel ever so slightly self-congratulatory, as a group "“ you, our loyal readers, and us, your loyal bloggers. Yes, we've come a long way since those incipient posts back in the early summer -- and it's high time someone said so.

Ready, set, reflect:

Having done that, let's get on with the Word Wrap, which, today, will give you something else to reflect on: the early development of our English language. Well, not all 15 centuries, "˜cause you certainly need not bother yourselves with the Jutes invasion of Britain ca. 400. And we might as well skip over the destruction of Lindisfarne in 790 on the northeast coast of England, which signaled the start of the Norse raids, which continued until the year 1050. And why on EARTH would anyone waste your time rattling on about the Black Death, which killed many of the ruling classes, contributing to the rise in status of the English working man, who spoke neither French nor Latin, y...A...w...n

No, all you really need to know about the early development of our language is this: in the early 1600s, the Brits arrived in Virginia and brought with them some pretty funky fashions, as well as some sexy accents, some of which are still around today. (The accents, not the getups.) (Though come to think of it, I have seen some folk in LA wearing cloaks recently. So perhaps they're making a comeback.) Read more about the accents after the jump.

This comes from a cool book I read recently called Does Anything Eat Wasps:

The first permanent English immigrants to North America settled in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, while 13 years later the Pilgrim Fathers landed further north at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language by David Crystal tells us that these two settlements had different linguistic consequences for the development of American English. The Jamestown colonists came mainly from England's West Country and spoke with the characteristic burr of these countries. This pattern can still be heard in some of the communities of the Jamestown region, especially Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay. Because of the relative isolation of this area, this "Tidewater" accent has change only slightly in 400 years and is sometimes said to be the closest we will ever get to the sound of Shakespearean English. The Plymouth colonists, by contrast, came from eastern England. These accents dominated in what is now New England, and their speech patterns are still the main influence in this area.

So remember that next time you park your car in Harvard yard.