Arquivo da Categoria ‘linguistics’

março 21st, 2012

When Did Americans Lose Their British Accents?

There are many, many evolving regional British and American accents, so the terms “British accent” and “American accent” are gross oversimplifications. What a lot of Americans think of as the typical “British accent” is what’s called standardized Received Pronunciation (RP), also known as Public School English or BBC English. What most people think of as an “American accent,” or most Americans think of as “no accent,” is the General American (GenAm) accent, sometimes called a ”newscaster accent” or “Network English.” Because this is a blog post and not a book, we’ll focus on these two general sounds for now and leave the regional accents for another time.

Revolutionary War reenactment

English colonists established their first permanent settlement in the New World at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, sounding very much like their countrymen back home. By the time we had recordings of both Americans and Brits some three centuries later (the first audio recording of a human voice was made in 1860), the sounds of English as spoken in the Old World and New World were very different. We’re looking at a silent gap of some 300 years, so we can’t say exactly when Americans first started to sound noticeably different from the British. As for the “why,” though, one big factor in the divergence of the accents is rhotacism.

The General American accent is rhotic and speakers pronounce the r in words such as hard. The BBC-type British accent is non-rhotic, and speakers don’t pronounce the r, leaving hard sounding more like hahd. Before and during the American Revolution, the English, both in England and in the colonies, mostly spoke with a rhotic accent. We don’t know much more about said accent, though. Various claims about the accents of the Appalachian Mountains, the Outer Banks, the Tidewater region and Virginia’s Tangier Island sounding like an uncorrupted Elizabethan-era English accent have been busted as myths by linguists.

Talk This Way

Around the turn of the 18th century, not long after the revolution, non-rhotic speech took off in southern England, especially among the upper and upper-middle classes. It was a signifier of class and status. This posh accent was standardized as Received Pronunciation and taught widely by pronunciation tutors to people who wanted to learn to speak fashionably. Because the Received Pronunciation accent was regionally “neutral” and easy to understand, it spread across England and the empire through the armed forces, the civil service and, later, the BBC. Across the pond, many former colonists also adopted and imitated Received Pronunciation to show off their status.

This happened especially in the port cities that still had close trading ties with England — Boston, Richmond, Charleston, and Savannah. From the Southeastern coast, the RP sound spread through much of the South along with plantation culture and wealth. After industrialization and the Civil War and well into the 20th century, political and economic power largely passed from the port cities and cotton regions to the manufacturing hubs of the Mid Atlantic and Midwest — New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, etc. The British elite had much less cultural and linguistic influence in these places, which were mostly populated by the Scots-Irish and other settlers from Northern Britain, and rhotic English was still spoken there.

As industrialists in these cities became the self-made economic and political elites of the Industrial Era, Received Pronunciation lost its status and fizzled out in the U.S. The prevalent accent in the Rust Belt, though, got dubbed General American and spread across the states just as RP had in Britain. Of course, with the speed that language changes, a General American accent is now hard to find in much of this region, with New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago developing their own unique accents, and GenAm now considered generally confined to a small section of the Midwest.

As mentioned above, there are regional exceptions to both these general American and British sounds. Some of the accents of southeastern England, plus the accents of Scotland and Ireland, are rhotic. Some areas of the American Southeast, plus Boston, are non-rhotic.


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Categorias: English, Posts, language, linguistics

janeiro 8th, 2012

Using Feelings And Senses To Learn Foreign Languages

Did you know that the most common and erroneous way that a lot of us try to learn foreign language vocabulary, phrases and expressions is by repetition of the foreign language word/s and the translation in our native language? If somebody reads a vocabulary list in French and wants to learn the word livre for example, they’ll say or think “book…. livre…. book….” and hope it sticks. Likewise, if you were trying to learn “where is the hotel?” in Turkish, you’d probably try to remember it by repeating “where is the hotel? otel nerede?” and then hope that between that and actually using the expression you remember how to say it. I’ve done this so many times before in a lot of languages and it’s always been a highly inefficient method and often a waste of time.

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janeiro 8th, 2012

Indiana Jones and The Power of Linguistics


Understanding the origin of words is a key to power

By Allen Quetone Contributor

Dusty catacombs crawling with vermin and concealing mysterious treasures. Hidden passages unlocked to reveal certain death or immense fortune. Ancient myths and legends leading to all the secrets of the human race. The study of linguistics has always been dangerous. Many would have you believe it’s study will lead to death by boredom. The benefits of linguistics are definitely not emphasized enough in our profit driven world.

The average citizen is driven to study languages like political rhetoric, popular jargon, and financial nomenclature in order to stay afloat in a highly competitive workforce. Many lose their frame of mind and become virtual clones by thinking in these languages of “mass communication.” As billionaire Karl Albrecht puts it, “change your language and you change your thoughts.” In addition to the bombardment of these evolving pseudo-languages, students at an earlier age also face the pragmatic pressures of pursuing fields of study that yield better salaries. Pay for Engineering, Science, Finance, and Business is thought to trump the “softer” liberal arts, whose study often conjures the image of coffee barista at the end of its path. While it may seem an impractical, outdated, and archaic field of study, linguistics opens the locks to treasures in every field that attempts to discredit it.

The emphasis on linguistics in the Indiana Jones saga seems a fitting tribute to the power this tool can bring to its user. While Indiana Jones’ heroics and knowledge of history play key roles in his success, his understanding of language and the origin of words allow his adventures to end at the source of the treasures he seeks. The knowledge of the origins and etymology of words is indeed a treasure map to meanings and the power they possess.

English is one of the richest sources of wisdom and knowledge in the world. Prior to its rise to the most popular language in the world, English was influenced by almost every spoken and written word. The verdant and fertile island in which it originally took root was always the target of invasion and war. The Romans, Francs, Norse, and Germanic Tribes all took their shots at dominance over the isle. Along with their swords these conquerors brought their language, cultures, and previous conquests. Far from domination, these invaders instead enriched the land and people with almost all of the combined knowledge of the ancient world. For this reason, English’s primary contributors are Latin, French, and the early Germanic Languages. The story of English is actually quite universal. The roots and keys to understanding every language in existence can be found by looking to the ancient empires that sought to subjugate them. For this reason Latin, Greek, Chinese, Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit are the principle contributors to all thoughts in the world.

Exploration of these roots can yield forgotten truths even in everyday life. Words and actions we take for granted often reveal their true purpose when we mind their origins. The word chair is derived from the Old French word chaiere and the modern French chaire meaning “throne or pulpit”. This draws light on the importance of the object and words such as Chairman and even explains why those who sit when they work often make more than those who must stand. Even our terms for recent inventions and innovations have their roots in the ancient past. The word car is derived from the Latin carrum “two wheeled chariot”. Even the trending word on the American mind, job has a telling past. Originally from the French gob meaning “mouthful”, it was coined as a reference to obtaining enough work to feed oneself. Money is derived from the Latin moneta meaning “mint or coined” referring to the location of their primary mint near the temple of Moneta or Juno. Even the word bank derives it’s meaning from the Germanic word bank meaning “bench or table”, referring to the table or bench where the original modern bankers did their business in Renaissance Italy.

Even the days of the week reveal our connection to the ancient world and the gods they revered. The English words for the days of the week are derived from the Germanic gods that they were devoted to. Interestingly the Germanic gods corresponding with each day almost perfectly align themselves with the gods the Roman’s equated with each day. Sunday and Monday are devoted to the Sun and Moon respectively with those being the most important heavenly bodies to the ancient world. Tuesday is Tiu’s day, the Germanic god of war. Wednesday is Woden’s day, the leader of the hunt. Thursday is Thor’s day, the Norse god of thunder. Friday is Freya’s day the Norse god of Love. Saturday is Saturn’s day, this is actually unchanged from the Roman equivalent and is devoted to Saturn the roman god of agriculture and the ruler of earth during the golden age. A look at the Spanish (Latinized) days of the week reveals the same.

English Spanish Relevant Information
Sunday Domingo The Latin word for lord is dominus

Monday Llunes The Spanish word for moon is luna

Tuesday Martes The Spanish word for Mars is Marte
Wednesday Miercoles The Spanish word for Mercury is Mercurio

Thursday Jueves The Spanish word for Jupiter is Jupiter

Friday Viernes The Latin word for Venus is Veneris
Saturday Sabado The Latin word for Sabbath is sabbato

The scientific field of medicine also shrouds many of it’s secrets in Latin nomenclature. Almost all of the technical terms in medicine are verbatim Latin words for the parts of the body they define. Scapula means “shoulder” in Latin. Femur means “thigh” in Latin. Fibula means “fasten with a clasp” in Latin. Anatomy Class is basic Latin vocabulary. The law profession uses the same Latin inspired nomenclature for it’s terms. Habeas corpus means “To Possess a body,” jurisprudence means “prudence of law”, Per diem means “per day”.

The study of languages and their roots can yield instant understand of terms in fields foreign to you and even to in languages never you’ve never encountered. It can reveal truths behind those you thought we just discovered. It will show you what you were looking for and it will show you things you didn’t know you were looking for. Thinking past the words that you are bombarded with and understanding every word you come across lets you play by your rules, not by the words manufactured for you. Choose your words, and you can control your thoughts. Control your thoughts, and you determine your own reality. Choose wisely.

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Categorias: Posts, etymology, linguistics