Saturday, March 03, 2007

What accent did Thomas Jefferson have?

Who's asking: Jen and Steve Lechner, Freeport, ME

No one can know the answer to this, of course, but we can make an educated guess. Thomas Jefferson came from Albemarle County, and the Albemarle County accent survives among some natives to this day. Senator John Warner (R-VA) speaks with an accent that might be close to the way Thomas Jefferson sounded.

It's an accent rooted in the colonial-era British accent, with a little bit of Scottish thrown in and the whole thing rolled around in the space between the nose and the hard palate. Northerners hear Southern accents as lazy, but speaking with that particular accent feels almost like chewing.

Thomas Jefferson's mother was London-born, and his tutor was a Scot; apparently Jefferson always spoke French with a Scottish accent, because a Scotsman taught him the language.

Jefferson was self-conscious about his voice, which contemporary accounts described as weak and high-pitched. That may have been a blessing, because it kept him from pursuing a legal career that might have distracted him from greater achievements.

We got about a foot of snow yesterday, but it had warmed up so much by the end of the day that a lot of what didn't get plowed has melted. Temperatures are supposed to get up to the mid-40s today, which means a lot more melting -- and a lot more mud.

1 comment:

Gail said...

Very interesting. I noticed that the actor who played Jefferson in HBO's John Adams had a slight Irish inflection. Probably not right, but at least they did not have him speak in a contemporary American accent.