American English Pronunciation-How American Pronunciation Has Evolved

By Michael E. Andrews

While English is the official language in several other countries, in the United States of America there is no official language. English is the official language of Australia, England, New Zealand and Canada. American English is most commonly spoken in the United States. American pronunciation has changed the course of the language from what it originally was.

Throughout the history of the English language, there have been several variations of it that have led to various American English pronunciations. The English that was spoken in 1300 was drastically different than the English that was spoken in 500 which was drastically different than modern day American English pronunciation is today.

Changes in the language over the centuries falls into one of three categories; phonemics, phonetics and syntax/morphology. All American English Pronunciation falls under one of these three categories.

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There have been great changes in the American pronunciation of the English language since the time of the 15th century. The way vowels are spoken in American pronounciation has changed, and this greatly affected the English language as a whole. Differences between accented vowels and unaccented vowels change the way those words are spoken in American pronunciation. When these changes occured in the language, the case system that had been used was greatly decreased.

Middle English and Modern English are two forms of the language that have changed American English pronunciations. Since the time period in which Chaucer lived, the way English speakers approach American pronunciation of words has changed.

Of all the changes in American pronunication, the Great Vowel Shift was the most important in American English pronunciation. During the times of early Middle English vowels were changed. In Old English, the words road,stone and home. A low back vowel changed these words to rad, stan and ham.

These are a series of words that define the six shifts that occured during the Great Vowel Shift:

  • Fode
  • Bote
  • Hus
  • Nu
  • Make
  • Take
  • Thee
  • Me
  • Mind
  • Like
  • Home
  • Stoon

This list of words illustrates why the letters a,e, and I possess different values in other languages than they possess in the English language. Vowel shifts still occur due to the differences in languages.

In the American pronunciation the words stone and hone are pronounced with the letter O sounding like “ow.” A different shift in the sound of the vowel occurs with received pronunciation as opposed to the standard American English pronunciation. Received pronunciation shifted since the age of Early Modern English.

Many of the words commonly used in the English language today came from the earliest forms of English. Three such words are shower, bread and good. Latin Christianity contributed the words bishop and priest to the English language and Scandinavian settlers added words such as window, root, take and egg. Before the start of the Norman Conquest, castle, originally a French word, entered the English language.

At the end of the fourteenth century and throughout the vernacular revival, many words derived from French made their way into American English pronunciation. The following words were integrated into the English language by the French:

  • assault
  • jury
  • tort
  • udge
  • parliament
  • duke
  • countess
  • baron
  • courage
  • manner
  • feeble
  • honor
  • poor
  • study
  • season

The majority of these words were originated in the Latin language. This means that these words are said to have had an indirect influence on the American pronunciation of words. Other languages began directly influencing the English language since the Rennaissance.

In the fields of technology and science, Greek and Latin both led to important words such as isotope, telephone, cyclotron, polymeric, intravenous and conifer. Over the past 300 years most other languages have contributed at least one word to the English language. This makes it one of the most diverse languages in the world and contributes to American English pronunciation.

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When it comes to American English Pronunciation and the way in which words are pronounced in British English there are some differences. American English uses a more conservative phonology than British English does. Select rural areas located throughout North America claim that locals speak what is known as “Elizabethan English.” The truth is, the upper Midwest of the United States actually speaks in a way that most closely resembles speech used during the seventeenth century as opposed to the British English of today.

American English pronunciation is seen as conservative due to the fact that it encompasses a combination of dialects that are spoken in the British Isles. The dialect of American pronunciation is the most distinctive throughout North America’s East Coast. The main reason for this is that those areas of North America were influenced by the varities of dialect within British English. At the time, their dialect was frequently changing.

The majority of the speech used in North America is rhotic. Usually in North American English the letter “R” was pronounced as a retroflex semivowel as opposed to a trill. This shift in American pronunciation took place during the eighteenth century. Most people occupying North America did not adopt this American pronunciation.

Modern day English owes a lot to the way in which it evolved from older forms of English and other languages.

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