Reading Fred Anderson’s superb Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, with its penetrating insights into every side’s point of view and what really mattered in the end (the Battle of Quebec, in which Wolfe and Montcalm so famously fell, was less important to the fate of Canada than the Battle of Quiberon Bay two months later, which put the French navy out of commission and prevented the resupply and reinforcement of Canada), I noticed a particularly telling misspelling in the following quote from the journal of Captain Samuel Jenks, a Massachusetts blacksmith, in an entry written after the fall of Montreal on September 9, 1760: “I fear we shall be kept [at Crown Point] until ye last of November, for ye command is left to Haverland, & I know he delights to fatigue ye provincials.” (I should point out that ye is a purely graphic alternative for the, due to the similarity of handwritten y and Þ; he would have read it “…until the last of November…” and so on. I will also point out that he was quite correct, and the commander, so solicitous of his regular troops from Britain, kept the provincials “working on the fort and its barracks despite a terrifying outbreak of smallpox, severe weather, and the utter lack of an enemy threat”; Anderson adds that “there was no love to be lost between the provincials and regulars who together had added Canada to the British empire.”)
Now, the commander’s name was Haviland, and Jenks’s spelling Haverland tells me that his dialect was non-rhotic (did not pronounce postvocalic r). I had somehow got it into my head that the loss of the r sound began later, but as this site says:

In the seventeenth century, most of England was rhotic, but non-rhotic speech was common in the southeast, near London. By the eighteenth century this became a prestige variety. In America, areas colonized by higher-class immigrants from southeastern England, such as Tidewater Virginia and the Eastern New England area, maintained non-rhotic speech, which is why the stereotyped Boston accent is r-less–“I pahked my cah by Hahvahd yahd” being a prime example. The r-lessness resulted partly from these speakers being (or being descended from) speakers of r-less dialects in England, and partly from the contact that wealthier speakers from these regions maintained with London at a time when r-lessness was prestigious.
Other regions, such as the mid-Atlantic states, Western New England, and upland areas around Virginia, were chiefly colonized by Scots-Irish or Western English immigrants who spoke r-ful dialects, and did not maintain much contact with upper-class British speech. (New York City, traditionally r-less, is a slightly differerent story; the area was originally r-ful, but r-lessness grew in the mid-nineteenth century through immigration from New England.)

The site also has this nice bit: “a classic joke in the New York area has a student writing ‘A tragic hero is one who falls through the floor in his character.'”


  1. Another equally telling point about it is that he pronounces it as schwa. Now I would have thought _that_ was more recent. Standard southern England speech retained unstressed [I] until recently. And Fowler talked about the choice between [devl] and [devIl], and regarded the latter as an old-fashioned affectation: implying that even in such a position it had earlier been normal to hear [I].

  2. Excellent point.

  3. dungbeattle says

    Oh! those trilless ahs, I was always a wondehin’ why I could never roll them ahs. Thank eeh .

  4. Now we have to get you looking into why, in Rhode Island, “R” is pronounced “V”, as in “I dvove my tvuck ta Cvanstin.” It seems to be getting rarer, but it’s a rare treat to hear a full-blown Rhodie.

  5. I was going to ask for help with the closing joke, but I think I just got it.
    ‘floor’ = ‘flaw’, yes?

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