What Did the Original Colonists Sound Like?

Hi, I'm Craig, and I'm an OC—Original Colonist—and this is Mental Foss on YouTube. Today I'm going to answer Jacob Mitchell's big question: What did the original colonists sound like? Did they have a modern British accent? Let's get started!

Every time I attempt a British accent the commenters get angry. Don't get angry. So, it turns out that accents are pretty complicated things. Like when Jacob says, "modern British accent," he probably means what linguists call the Received Pronunciation, or R.P., or rp.

There are a ton of different accents in the UK, but the Oxford English Dictionary defines the R.P. as "the standard accent of English as spoken in the south of England." And that's what Americans typically mean when they say "British accent" (but let's be honest, Americans never talk about other countries at all). There's a flip side to that too: Americans have tons of different accents, but the general "American" accent is what a British person would call an "American accent." They might not do [air quotes] though.

At that time both accents were rhotic, like an American acent. Rhoticism means the letter R is pronounced in words like hard and park. In Received Pronunciation, that R sound isn't pronounced. Should it be "Eceived Ponunciation," then? Of course there aren't any recordings from the seventeenth century, so we can't know for sure what British and American people sounded like, but linguists are pretty sure both are rhotic because the R exists in those words, so it's probably supposed to be ponounced

Experts have also observed that it wasn't until the late eighteenth century that British people started to write words like hard or park while omitting the R for time in shorthand notes. It takes time to write that R with all those curves. 

So, where did the modern British accent come from? According to the Cambridge History of the English Language, the Received Pronunciation emerged in southern England during the Industrial Revolution. People were born into lower classes and then became wealthy developed a way of speaking so they could set themselves apart from the social class they had surpassed. The book states "London pronunciation became the prerogative of a new breed of specialists—orthoepists and teachers of elocution. The orthoepists decided upon correct pronunciations, compiled pronouncing dictionaries and, in private and expensive tutoring sessions, drilled enterprising citizens in fashionable articulation."

So, if you ever see a movie or play that takes place in Britain before the eighteenth century, those characters should be speaking in American accents. Mind blown!

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Why Do Politicians Need to Say 'I Approve This Message' in Their Ads?

What does it mean when a politician approves of a message in a campaign commercial?
What does it mean when a politician approves of a message in a campaign commercial?
bee32/iStock via Getty Images

As election season ramps up, voters will be seeing a lot of campaign advertisements on television. Without exception, these ads will conclude with a disclaimer that the politician being endorsed has sanctioned the spot. Usually, the person will say or be quoted as saying “I approve this message.” It’s clearly a requirement, but why? And how did it get started?

The practice is a relatively new one. In 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was passed, along with the Stand By Your Ad provision. The Act, which was backed by then-senators John McCain and Russell D. Feingold, was intended to further legitimize campaign contributions by banning large corporate donations. Stand By Your Ad mandates that anyone running for federal office stamp “I approve this message” as part of their campaign commercials. The goal was to curb muckraking, where candidates would lob ceaseless insults and accusations at one another. With Stand By Your Ad, lawmakers were hoping political candidates would think twice before engaging in dirty tactics and then attempting to deny any involvement. Call it a self-imposed campaign shaming.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is very specific about how that disclaimer should appear. According to the FEC, the written statement must come at the end of the ad, appear for at least four seconds, be readable against a contrasting background, and occupy at least 4 percent of the vertical picture height. The candidate will typically identify themselves and say the message aloud.

If the message was not approved by a candidate, then the spot will typically name the entity that is responsible—a political committee, group, or person. There’s also usually language about who financed the commercial.

So does this “play nice” edict actually work? According to research from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley and published in the Journal of Marketing Research in 2018, the answer is: Not really.

Negative campaign ads made up 29 percent of political persuasion spots in 2000, and that number rose to 64 percent in 2012. In the week before the 2016 presidential election, 92 percent of ads were characterized as negative.

One possible reason: By stamping a negative message with “I approve,” candidates might actually be perceived as more credible by voters, as they're showing that they are willing to stand behind what viewers infer to be truthful statements. In a study of 2000 people using both real and fictional ads, researchers found that “I approve this message” didn’t change their perception of positive ads or personal attack ads, but did increase their confidence in politicians using policy-based attack ads.

The appearance of federal regulation, even if there’s no actual regulatory approval over a statement, seems to give messages credibility. So long as a candidate “approves” a message, positive or negative, voters may perceive their subjective statements as the truth.

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