What dialect is closer to the "original language"?

Something weird I've noticed:


UK English was closer to American English in the past, eg. "park" would be pronounced /pa:rk/ by Shakespeare, but most British today say /pa:k/, without the /r/. Also UK English conjugates "to get" as get/got/got but US English says get/got/gotten, which is the older form. (there's some debate about both forms around the English-speaking world!)


This is true for many other languages too: Canadian French is closer to medieval French, and South American Spanish sounds closer to the language spoken by the conquistadors of the 16th century. The name of the Afghan language "Dari" is derived from "Darbâri", which means "Imperial", and it's much closer to classical Persian what's spoken in Iran. Also Chinese poetry sounds more authentic in Cantonese than than in Mandarin (because Cantonese has about 9 different tones, like ancient Chinese. Modern Mandarin only has 4 tones. So Chinese poetry sounds more "musical" in Cantonese)


Has anyone else noticed this? Why are newer/rarer dialects are more archaic than the "original version"? I've looked everywhere for an explanation, and can't find one.

Dec 30, 2015 4:06 PM
Comments · 19

To answer your question Dutch from Suriname has its own tonation and uses some Spanish and Portuguese words, but it is very simular. In the Antilles they hardly speak Dutch. But Suriname is not really a migrant country. There were not really many Dutch immigrating to Suriname, to form their own culture. It is a very small and mixed community.

January 2, 2016

@Jmat: Very interesting points re: the great vowel shift. I've always been mystified by it, where did it come from? However if anything it reinforces my hypothesis that smaller or more distant dialects of a language are more conservative than its historical "acrolect" (in the case of English, the London dialect). Perhaps the US was colonised by more southwestern British? Sounds a bit far-fetched, but perhaps I'm wrong.

On a side note, since we're both Australasians, why do you think words like "dance" are pronounced /dæns/ in AusE and /da:ns/ in NZE? It would make sense if Australia was colonised more by northern British and NZ more by southerners, but can't find any evidence of this either.


@Negin: Keep in mind that all the Englishes are 99% similar, so it's not something to be too concerned about. If you mixed some American pronunciation and British pronunciation into your English it wouldn't be big deal, but as far as spelling is concerned I suggest you pick either BrE or AmE and stick to it: it's totally OK to write either "color" or "colour" in a text, but using both together would look unusual!

December 31, 2015

I'm sorry to hear that you're 'troubled', dear Richard. But there's really no need to be so concerned. In fact, the post-vocalic 'r' is still going strong in many parts of Great Britain, not to mention the the whole of Ireland.

Millions of British people pronounce their 'r's just as you'd like them to do, every day of their lives. There are 5 million or more Scots, for a start, together with most of the population of south west England, including the cities of Bristol and Bath and the counties of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. If you were to visit those parts of England you'd hear plenty of 'r's being pronounced. There are also isolated pockets of rhoticity in other areas of England. Try googling a popular English actress called Jane Horrocks, and see if you can find an interview with her using her native accent, a delightful Lancashire 'burr' with a very distinctive 'r'.

And what about the rest of us, sorry bunch that we are, who are sadly destined to spend our lives having to pronounce 'pander' the same as 'panda', and 'karma' the same as 'calmer'? Well, my understanding is that the 'r' dropping was an 18th-century London affectation which gradually spread northwards and westwards, forcing the 'r' the to take hiding in the strongholds of rhoticity of the far west and north west, but stopping short of Scotland.

So, no need to set your petition to bring back the missing 'r'. It's alive and well.

January 2, 2016

I'm not a linguist but I understand that the great vowel shift happened during the period of middle English (11th to 14 centuries) when French became the language of ceremony and many new words came into English from French.  Lowlands Scots dialects and Geordie (north eastern England) were largely unaffected, hence speakers from the lowlands of Scotland and Newcastle continuing to sound more similar to Dutch than speakers from the south of England.

I've always imagined that the American accent was most strongly influenced by the accents of an area roughly corresponding to Wessex.  The biggest ports in this area are Bristol and Plymouth whose people still have a very marked rhotic /r/ and whose "o" sound (as in "hot") sounds much like modern American accents. These areas would have been subject to the "great vowel shift".  Irish accents have the same features and so may also have played a part in shaping many American accents.

January 2, 2016

This is a kind of trouble for non-native speakers of English. For example sometimes we have to memorize two structures or words for one thing(BrE & AmE). We even have to choose between these two dialects & decide which of these we want to imitate. This is somehow confusing for me because I like both British & American!

December 30, 2015
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