Investigating Outlander’s Americans – Post 3

Spoilers! If you aren’t up-to-date with Outlander don’t read this. But also, if you’re not up-to-date with Outlander, don’t read anything! Go catch up on Outlander!

Recommended for Time-travelling Bishes, Outlander Observesses, Historical Linguistics Hunnies, and American Dialect Divas.

Hunky 1770s beau, Jamie, leans against a wall with a devilish smirk upon his visage.

This series is about the Starz melodrama Outlander, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon, about a woman from the 1970s who time travels to the 1770s to be with her hunky Scottish beau. If you don’t care about any of that, but are interested in learning about early American English, you’ll do fine. Posts 1-4 in the series discuss what we know about how early Americans spake. But I really think you should watch Outlander though.

Welcome back!

If you missed Posts 1 and 2 of this series, follow this link to go back and read them. If you’re not sure why I’m writing about Outlander, maybe the introduction to the series will help?

Stephen Bonnet roguishly and sardonically claims that it is a pleasure to see you again.

Last time we learned that the Puritans gave Boston its distinctive dialect and that Brianna definitely doesn’t have it. This time we’re going to look at the second group of English speakers to arrive in America. This information is from online resources compiled by historical linguist Prof. Edward Vajda at Western Washington University.

The Royalists (or “Cavaliers”) came from south and southwest England and settled in Virginia and the Carolinas. This should be the accent we see the most in Outlander’s Americans. It’s too bad we don’t meet that many of them.

Capt. Stephen Bonnet sagely declares “a wise man leaves the things beyond his power to the gods.

We learned in Post 1 of this series that colonists moved around a lot and so there was a lot of dialect levelling. That’s when everyone mixes together and starts to sound more similar. This is one of the reasons that early American English was relatively uniform.

However, in theory, George Washington, growing up in Virginia would have been more under the influence of this Royalist dialect than any other. The features of this one include that distinctive drawl, loss of Ds and Ts at the end of words (like I tol’ you instead of I told you), and emphasis on the first syllable of words like GUI-tar.

And yet, our brief meeting with young George did not reveal any of these features.

A grimy Stephen Bonnet looks at us condescendingly as if to say “…and?”

The most notable fact about this dialect is that it was the primary influence on Black American English, which then influenced it right back. Here is a table of its features:

The Royalists or Cavaliers (1642-1675)

Migration: From south and southwest England to Virginia and the
Feature 1: That drawl (caused by diphthongalization). House sounded
like haahhse and eggs like aaiggs
Feature 2: loss of final t, d after another consonant: And sounded like an and told sounded like tol
Feature 3: Emphasis placed on the first syllable. Guitar sounded like GUI-tar and July sounded like JU-ly
Words & Expressions: Aksed, ain’t, y’all, bucket (instead of pail),
snickerdoodles, tacky,  varmint, (from vermin), vittles (from victuals),
spitting image of  (from spirit and image of), andthree bricks shy of a load
Influence: A lot of idioms in general standard American English
Black English: Southern dialects were influenced by the English spoken by West Africans when slaves, native speakers of dozens of languages,
were forced to learn English. The dialect of English they created was
primarily influenced by the speech of the southern whites, then it
influenced the speech of southern whites right back.
Shared features: Loss of final t, d after another consonant: Use of double negatives, ain’t, as in early English. Loss of ng: somethin‘, nothin‘, etc.
Unique feature 1: No use of the linking verb ‘to be’  or generalization of
one form for it
Unique feature 2: Emphasis on aspect rather than tense: He workin’  
(right now) vs.  He be workin’.  This is found in many West African
Unique feature 3: I done gone (from Wolof doon , the completive verb
aspect particle + English ‘done’).
Unique feature 4: Regularization of present tense verb conjugation: He
don’t, he know it.
Unique feature 5: Voiced th in initial position becomes d: dis, dey; in
medial position it becomes v: brother > brovva.Final voiceless th f  with = wif
Words & Expressions: tote bag (tota = carry in Kikonga), hip (Wolof hepicat one who has his eyes wide open), voodoo (obosum, guardian spirit) mumbo jumbo (from name of a West African god), yam (njami/ Senegal), banana (Wolof).  Also, the phrases: sweet talking, every which way, high-five
Influence: All World Englishes

Again, we don’t get to meet a ton of Americans on the show and that feels like a missed opportunity. The only chances we got were the night Claire and Jamie went to the theatah and at Aunt Jocasta’s dinner party to set Brianna up with man. I didn’t notice any of these features in the Americans we met. Did you? Maybe they were all recent transplants and not really locals.

The only black people who get any screen time are Aunt Jocasta’s house slaves, Phaedra and Ulysses. Phaedra has an inexplicable Scottish accent. Even if she learned English from her owner in the house, she’s not a person in a vacuum. I find it hard to believe that she’d go full Scots. She probably would have been influenced by growing up around Ulysses who doesn’t have a Scottish accent or a southern drawl.

Maybe I’m asking too much here, but a few southern American accents and early Black American English here and there would have really set the scene.

Next time on Investigating Outlander’s Americans – Post 4, we’ll look at the Quakers and the Appalachians, arguably the most important influence on American English and what we should see most of on the show.

Grimy Stephen Bonnet bows mockingly and bids us adieu.

Longmore, Paul K. “‘Good English without Idiom or Tone’: The Colonial Origins of American Speech.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 37, no. 4, 2007, pp. 513–542., doi:10.1162/jinh.2007.37.4.513.

Luu, Chi. “When Did Colonial America Gain Linguistic Independence?” Jstor Daily, Jstor, 4 July 2017,

S, R. “Accents and Anachronisms: What Did People Sound like in 18th Century America?” TURN to a Historian, 4 May 2015,

Vajda, Edwards “The Dialects of American English.” Linguistics 201: The Origin of Language,

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