Where dialects of American English came from

A recent post by Rosemarie Ostler on the OUP blog summarises the historical roots of today’s American dialects. Four main groups of colonists arrived in British North America in the 17th and 18th centuries. They came from different regions, bringing their own dialects:

  • Puritans arrived in Massachusetts from 1629, coming mainly from East Anglia in southeast England.
  • Cavaliers settled in Virginia in the second half of the 17th century. They were mostly from south and west of London.
  • Quakers settled in Pennsylvania between 1675 and 1715. They were more mixed geographically, but most came from the North Midlands.
    One of the leaders of this group was William Brewster, apparently born in Scrooby (Nottinghamshire) in about 1566. I have written on my family history blog about Scrooby. One set of my 4 x great grandparents lived there in the early 19th century. Scrooby – Birds of Cressingham
  • A final rush of colonists arrived between 1717 and 1775 in western Pennsylvania and the Appalachian backcountry. They came from the border regions of Scotland and northern England, and from northern Ireland.

Dialects of American English today

Today’s dialect regions of the United States reflect how descendants of these early colonists spread out across the continent to the west. Those regions are:

  • North (northeastern states and upper Midwest)
  • South (southeastern states and the inland South as far west as Texas)
  • Midland (Pennsylvania to the Rocky Mountains)
  • West (from the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean). People flooded into the West in the 19th century from all over, so none of the original dialects became dominant there.

Rosemary Ostler’s blogpost is at American English dialects: always changing, yet here to stay | OUPblog

Her website lists her books, including her forthcoming book The United States of English: The American Language from Colonial Times to the Twenty-First Century Rosemarie Ostler | Book (rosemarie-ostler.com)

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