Why do British theater actors, who are native English speakers, pronounce the sound /r/ as if they were Italian or Spanish?
Sometimes I hear that accent used even outside theaters.
If you need an example, then listen to this famous recording of Vincent Price. He says this /r/ sound at time 0:40 in the word "creatures" in this clip: YouTube - Michael Jackson - Thriller (Vincent Price's studio acapella with verse that got cut)
Note that in many other cases on that recording he pronounces the /r/ sound as a native English speaker would.
Thanks. Could you please specify what exactly you mean by dramatic effect? What feeling does it evoke in a native speaker?
Does it sound foreign or not?
It depends on the part of Britain- many Scottish speakers are rhotic, for instance.
Also, there is a performance art tradition dating back a thousand years, surviving mosty in French, to use the Languedoc pronunciation of the letter R rather than the northern Frankish pronunciation. This is for authenticity, as the troubadors were all from Languedoc originally, (the ones who were not Galego-Portuguese).
So we have Edith Piaf and Mireille Matthieu using the Mediterranean r in their songs (just check onliune for "Je ne regrette rien.)"
So I think there may be a bleed of this tradition into English. In London, at the theatre, I hear more rolled Rs than outside on Shaftesbury Avenue, by a large margin.
But I'm only guessing here.
Last edited by enthink; 10-May-2011 at 20:02.
Robertson Davies used to imitate TS Eliot and put on an exaggerated RP accent, though he was raised here, when reading his books in public in Toronto. I saw him with Tony Burgess (who was literally foaming at the mouth he was so drunk); Davies rolled his Rs like a Scottish grand-dad (in addition to using RP for all other sounds. So I think there is some truth to the effect. Or the affectation.
The recording you link is camp horror, which is what Vincent Price is best known for anyway. The rolling R's and other affectations in language and manners are part of the genre expectations of certain sub-genres of horror (especially camp horror).
Rolling R's are also common in what is known as Mummerset accent which is used for comic effect (rolled R's are perceived as funny) or to show that the character is of an "aspiring class".
Similarly, the "Shakespearean accent" is part of genre expectations. Shakespeare can be delivered with a modern accent, but that feels inauthentic to some of the audience (not all) because we expect Shakespearean language to be pronounced a certain way.
This is part of the aesthetic contract we enter into. The language we expect is "estranged" (made-strange) and that is what seems to lend the plays their dramatic character. Shakespeare writes before the bourgeois theater with its focus on the individual, the private, the personal. His characters are closer to Greek theater than to Ibsen. The plays deal with fate and destinies of great people. Thus, it must be estranged. One view is that when delivered in modern English, thus losing their estranged character, the plays become "common" (something more suitable for a realist drawing room drama, for example). Of course one can very successfully argue with this view but it's still a valid view.
Where this came from -- you'll have to ask a Shakespearean scholar. I would guess it comes from the fact that in Shakespearean times English was rhotic (that's why you'll see in the article I link below a reference to the commonly held belief that AmE is closer to Shakespeare than BrE). This would go back to the "authenticity" argument.
You might find this interesting:
Shakespearean vs. Contemporary English | Dialect Blog