When Did Americans Lose Their British Accents And More Questions From Our Readers

You asked, we answered

Rogan Brown

Weather systems in the United States move from west to east, so how is it that Atlantic hurricanes originate off the African coast and move west?

John Jay Rouse, St. Cloud, Minnesota

The winds blow from west to east in the mid-latitudes, where the United States is located, but in the tropics, they blow east to west.

Douglas Herman, geographer, National Museum of the American Indian

When did the early colonists stop sounding British and start sounding American?

Katie Cavanaugh, Mason, Michigan

People back in England noted the quirky new ways Americans were speaking English within a generation of the colonists’ arrival. Over time, the changes went beyond accent to include different words and grammatical structures, adding up to a new dialect. Dialects have two main causes. The first is isolation; early colonists had only sporadic contact with the mother country. The second is exposure to other languages, and the colonists came into contact with Native American languages, mariners’ Indian English pidgin and other settlers, who spoke Dutch, Swedish, French and Spanish. All of these languages influenced American English, as did the English-speaking colonists’ origins in different parts of England, Wales and Scotland. Later, as metropolitan centers such as Boston and New York City had more contact with England, they adopted the then-trendy r-less accent of the English upper class.

Mary Linn, linguist, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage


Hummingbirds visit my feeders every spring. Are these the same birds returning because they can remember where the food is?

Claire Muskus, Lisbon, Connecticut

There’s lots of evidence that birds can recall where they found food previously, but it is unclear whether they remember from day to day or year to year. Hummingbirds are known to “trap-line,” or to pay regular visits to certain bushes or even flowers for nectar, suggesting at least short-term recall.

Peter Marra, ecologist, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, National Zoo

Is the Kensington Runestone in Minnesota real or fake?

Steven Kispert, Owatonna, Minnesota

Despite recent efforts to “revive” the stone as a monument left by Scandinavian explorers in the 14th century, runic experts, geologists and archaeologists have judged it a 19th-century creation. But it’s still valuable as a focus of modern Scandinavian heritage in the Upper Midwest.

William Fitzhugh, anthropologist, National Museum of Natural History

Does anyone know where the plane carrying Glenn Miller went down?

Mary-Dawn Johnston, Boise, Idaho

No. There are still conflicting theories on where and why the bandleader’s plane disappeared on December 15, 1944. He was en route from England to France, where his band was to play.

John Edward Hasse, curator of American music, National Museum of American History

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