Here at CSOFT, our office is filled with people from all across the globe, all working together in an environment that requires cross-cultural communication at its finest. In addition to all the languages you might hear while hanging out at our MILK and Cookies café, should the conversation switch to English, you will hear a variety of accents. It is true that an accent leaves a cultural fingerprint on the language spoken, and for native English speakers hearing their own language with a foreign twist can be an interesting lesson in the linguistic elements of another.
English English English!
There are so many different accents found within the English language. Between all of the Anglophones in the world, there are countless unique and distinct accents resulting from numerous factors in sociolinguistics. Here at CSOFT, where people from Canada, England, Wales, the U.S. (and more) mix and mingle in the workplace, communicating verbally can be amusing for a native English speaker interacting with so many different forms of their own language.
Furthermore, creating content in the English language can become especially tricky when dealing with multiple spellings of words and different vocabularies. Perhaps the most common line of distinction is drawn between American and British English. So how did all of the differences between these two come to be?
The Use of Rhotacism
Just within the two camps of British and American English there are many different accents, but the most recognizable British accent is called “Received Pronunciation” and the most recognizable American accent is “General American.” The biggest difference between these two accents is a linguistic element called “rhotacism” — the way in which one makes an r sound. For example, in the word “yard,” a non-rhotic r will sound more like “yahd,” while a rhotic pronunciation will produce a harder sounding typical American r. In modern English, Received Pronunciation is non-rhotic, while General American is rhotic.
Contrary to popular belief, in the years before the American Revolution, the English spoken in the colonies was actually quite similar to that of England, and was actually spoken using rhotic sounds. However, not long after the revolution, the use of non-rhotic English began to be used among the upper classes as a status symbol. This regionally neutral accent became known as Received Pronunciation and was taught to those trying to speak fashionably, even in America.
In regions of America like Boston, Richmond, Charleston and Savannah, where close trading ties with England remained, the non-rhotic accent spread as a result of England’s cultural influence. However as Scottish and Irish settlers with rhotic accents began moving into industrial hubs like New York and Chicago, Received Pronunciation began to lose its influence. While it can still be found in regional accents, rhotacism in the General American accent is now a thing of the past.
Word Origin and Webster’s Dictionary
Another noticeable difference on paper between British and American English is the way words are spelled, particularly with words like “honour/honor” or “centre/center.” British English has always stuck to a spelling of words that is close to its origin, which is usually French or Latin. However, Noah Webster is credited with being the one who created the spelling differences in American and British English. In his 1828 American English dictionary, he chose to drop extra letters and simplify many English words to make the spelling a little closer to how it sounded despite the word’s origin. However, most sources will say that he was more deeply motivated to create a separate identity for American English that differentiated itself from British English, thus the change of many words.
Out of the two camps have come many varieties of the language depending on the region of the country where it is being spoken. Moreover, outside of England and America are people from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, and Scotland, etc. who all have their own varieties of the language. English is just another example of a language that has evolved and changed throughout time based on the culture and location it is used in. But however a person says their rs or spells the word “colo(u)r,” using English is a way to for people from all over the world to connect.