Freelance Writer Files: Did Shakespeare Speak American??

Portrait of Shakespeare


There’s a new CD out that contains the real sound of Shakespearean English. Surprisingly, it sounds more American than Henry Higgins-style British. Here’s an excerpt:

Q: I tuned in late to the discussion on WNYC about Elizabethan English, but did Pat really say Shakespeare spoke like an American? How does she know what he sounded like? I didn’t realize Francis Bacon had invented the tape recorder.

A: The short answer is that Shakespeare didn’t sound just like an American, but his accent was probably more NBC than BBC.

The interesting thing is that language, like species, evolves in different directions in two populations of critters that are split up (in this case, Brits and emigrating Brits, separated by the Atlantic Ocean). In post-Shakespearean times, the British adopted what is called Received Pronunciation. Think of the upstairs residents in “Upstairs Downstairs.” Meanwhile, the Brits who had emigrated to America retained the Original Pronunciation, which was more like modern American English, with a hint of other accents thrown in. So ironically, American English may be more authentic British English than what’s spoken by today’s Brits!

Read more here.

If you’re interested in the evolution of language globally, please check out “Tower of Babel” by Rob Pennock. Fascinating!

And brush up your Shakespeare!

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