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    #1

    Why do British theater actors use such different accent?

    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!

  1. bhaisahab's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Why do British theater actors use such different accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by enthink View Post
    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!
    Vincent Price was an American theatre/film actor, not a British theatre actor. In the clip he is putting on an accent for dramatic effect.

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    #3

    Re: Why do British theater actors use such different accent?

    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?

    Quote Originally Posted by bhaisahab View Post
    Vincent Price was an American theatre/film actor, not a British theatre actor. In the clip he is putting on an accent for dramatic effect.
    I know he worked in the US, but he allegedly spent an initial part of his life travelling throughout Europe (I'd looked this up before posting) and I believe one can clearly hear his somewhat British-like accent (non-rhotic). Also, I talked about British actors because I heard the /r/ sound when I watched British actors in a British theater.

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    #4

    Re: Why do British theater actors use such different accent?

    It depends on the part of Britain- many Scottish speakers are rhotic, for instance.

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    #5

    Re: Why do British theater actors use such different accent?

    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.

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    #6

    Re: Why do British theater actors use such different accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    It depends on the part of Britain- many Scottish speakers are rhotic, for instance.
    Those actors were not Scottish. I am certain of that. They used the normal English /r/ only in certain cases did they use the "Spanish" /r/.

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    #7

    Re: Why do British theater actors use such different accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by konungursvia View Post
    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.
    Yes. I thought something like that too. Thanks.

    Could any native speaker answer this question please? What exact feelings does the foreign /r/ sound evoke in the listener when he or she hears it from the mouth of a native speaker who otherwise speaks RP?
    Last edited by enthink; 10-May-2011 at 21:02.

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    #8

    Re: Why do British theater actors use such different accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by enthink View Post
    What exact feelings does the foreign /r/ sound evoke in the listener when he or she hears it from the mouth of a native speaker who otherwise speaks RP?
    It is not 'foreign'; it is just not normal in standard British English as spoken in most parts of England. If I hear it used in a kitchen-sink drama set in England, then I conclude that the actors are not very accomplished; if I hear it in a performance of Shakespeare, then I accept it. In many types of plays we do not expect to hear the language of the street.

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    #9

    Re: Why do British theater actors use such different accent?

    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.

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    #10

    Re: Why do British theater actors use such different accent?

    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

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