Even before the colonies split away from England, the British tended to treat America as some sort of poor relation with insuperable cultural defects, the most egregious of which was our language.
The following article from 1912, interestingly enough, practically coincides with the appearance of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, a play by an Irishman intent on tweaking the British establishment through, among other things, their own idiomatic language:
A SMALL FRACTION of Americans took it in hand a few years ago to reform our speech. As the language which we own to speaking is the English tongue, and as our language is supposedly spoken with the greatest purity in the country where it is native, England was looked to to furnish the norms of correct speech.
The society, tho fostered by a number of distinguished men and women, seems to have languished and died, for recently no public mention has been made of its activities.
The New YorkTimes has, however, been telling us of schools to be found in London where the “English accent,” with other polite forms of speech, can be learned by visiting Americans. The London papers themselves are reported to be agitated with interest over these new endeavors, and The Daily Mirror has succeeded in finding one of the schools and observing the way it goes about making over the linguistic peculiarities of American visitors.
There are given four principal reasons why pupils submit to the making-over process:
“1. Because the accent is prettier than the ‘American.’
“2. Because the English spoken in England is naturally the pure language.
“3. For reasons of pride. To appear English after visiting England.
“4. The studious desire to be able to read aloud Shakespeare and other literature in the English tongue.”
One pupil who applied was told that to learn “English English” the American must “avoid the nasal articulation,” “regulate the voice and not indulge in rising and falling inflections,” “learn the different pronunciations without questioning why they are different,” and “not accentuate the letter ‘r’.”
The “professor” in charge of the school is thus quoted and reported:
“The nasal accent, of course, is the chief difference between English English and American English. Americans, therefore, must learn to open their mouths when speaking and to bring the sound forward, instead of speaking at the back of the throat and through the nose.”
The anxious pupil was last seen making a list of such slang terms as “My hat,” “My word,” “My Aunt,” with their accompanying significances. — Unsigned, “Curing ‘American English’,” THE LITERARY DIGEST, September 21, 1912.