Did George Washington Have a British Accent?

Did George Washington Have a British Accent?

When it comes to the physical characteristics of George Washington, we all know something about him. However, the puzzle is on his accent. What did he sound like? Did he have a British accent or any other?

Well, you could say he had a little bit of both American and British accents.While it’s hard to be certain about this, some existing pieces of evidence might indicate what he sounded like.

This is because his parents were of English descent and belonged to the gentry class. But even so, the farm upbringing and interaction with locals of different dialects might be the reason for his distinct accent. Also, the physical disconnect of US from the Britain meant there was little British influence on his accent.

What Did George Washington Sound Like

In the course of his life, Washington endured several illnesses that may have altered the way he spoke. At one point, he had throat illnesses, and then lung-related sicknesses such as quinsy, pneumonia, epiglottitis, tuberculosis, and diphtheria.  Therefore, there’s a higher likelihood that his accent was a result of the side-effect of these diseases.

According to the author of “Becoming George Washington” book, Steve Yoch, Pleurisy, a disease that provokes lung inflammation, might have made his voice high, weaker and a little breathy. Not to mention, he was also suffering from dental problems, which might have contributed to a weaker tone.

Similarly, the description of Washington’s voice is no different, when it comes to his contemporaries. For instance according to Fisher Ames, United States Congress Representative, his voice was deep-toned, weak, and had little tremulous. Therefore, it was too low that you had to pay close attention to perceive him.

According to one of his friends, George Mercer, Washington sounded agreeable instead of strong. So, what did George Washington Sound Like? Well, all the above description seems to point in the same direction. If we go by Fisher Ames’s more detailed description, he had a “deep-toned voice that’s weak and had little tremulous”.

Did The Founding Fathers Sound British?

Well, they did due to their close association with the British. At the same time, they also had an American accent cultivated in them while growing up interacting with people.

While we often believe that American English is a variant of British English it’s not the case. Initially, both Americans and British shared more or less the same English (rhotic).

That meant that the founding fathers who were in contact with the British but also Americans sounded rhotic. And during Independence Day, the pronunciation between the two remained more or less the same. You could hardly tell the difference.

But, where did non-rhotic English come from? Well, the American Revolution marked the beginning of the non-rhotic speech, what we know today as British English. It was a language for the wealthy who had acquired plenty of wealth in the course of the industrial revolution. Therefore, it came to be a distinction between the commoners and the wealthy or royal class. You could say it was a show of new status. .

Did Any Of The Founding Fathers Have Accents?

It’s a yes and no answer. The founding fathers had accents but not the British accent or the American accent we recognize today. Also, it’s impossible to prove who influenced the other knowing well that the first recording was after the 1860s.

Also, keep in mind, accents are constantly evolving. Therefore, what was known as the Victorian accent for the British is not similar to their modern accents. Likewise, the American accent has evolved and is more similar to the Victoria accent than the current British accent.

Now, this takes back to the rhotic and non-rhotic sounds. Across the world, modern British English is non-rhotic. And their American counterpart is rhotic, retaining the qualities of Victorian English accent.

That said, both the British and American modern accents are predecessors of Victorian accents. However, the American accent retained most of the qualities of the Victorian accent, unlike Modern British English.

And the founding fathers spoke more of the American accent than the evolved British accent after the American Revolution. And it’s the same accent that has evolved into the modern American accent.

Summary

Finally, did George Washington have a British accent? Or did any of the founding fathers have a British accent? Well, the answer remains the same. They had an American accent (rhotic), with a mild British accent. Even with their interaction with the British, the influence of local dialects is undeniably stronger as well. And even so, the American and British accents during their time were similar. In that, they were rhotic and it’s only after the American Revolution that the British shifted to a non-rhotic accent as a sign of status. Being a symbol of class, most of the British low class retained the rhotic English similar to that of Americans.