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  1. #11
    enthink is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Why do British theater actors use such different accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by freezeframe View Post
    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.
    Thanks for that very informative post.

    Another native English speaker suggested something that is very close to the last paragraph of your post. He said that the actors do it to sound "ancient". And if London English was really rhotic in Shakespeare's times (was it?), then it would really make sense. What do you think?

  2. #12
    freezeframe is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Why do British theater actors use such different accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by enthink View Post
    Thanks for that very informative post.

    Another native English speaker suggested something that is very close to the last paragraph of your post. He said that the actors do it to sound "ancient". And if London English was really rhotic in Shakespeare's times (was it?), then it would really make sense. What do you think?
    I already posted what I think in a rather lengthy post. I'm not going to repeat it all.

    What was or wasn't the case doesn't matter. "Real authenticity" is impossible. What matters is our perceptions and expectations.

  3. #13
    djack is offline Newbie
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    Post Pronunciation of intervocalic /r/ as alveolar tap in British English

    Hello everyone,

    I recently found the following thread in the Ask a Teacher section of this forum (sadly closed), [I have added your post to the original thread - 5jj] in which @enthink asked why some English actors pronounce the letter R "as if they were Italian or Spanish":

    http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/as...nt-accent.html

    Quite a few people replied, but the thread ended up in speculation, without anyone giving the correct answer, which I think is worth posting here.
    The alveolar tap [ɾ] pronunciation of the intervocalic R (sometimes even a slight trill) in British English is NOT any of the following:

    – A fruity affectation in inexperienced thespians (although I'm sure it has become so in many occasions)
    – An emulation of Mediterranean/Languedoc pronunciation
    – An example of the Scottish dialect (even though the Scots do of course roll their r's)
    – A genre expectation in camp horror
    – An exercise in "theatrical estrangement" to divorce an audience from the characters in a play
    – A left-over sound from rhotic British accents
    – A comic effect in the Mummerset accent

    All of those theories were posted as fact in that very short thread – it's surprising and a bit unfortunate nobody came up with the correct one.
    The reason why that sound was used in the Mid-Atlantic accent of 1940s films quickly becomes apparent when listening to this recording of Virginia Woolf from 1937:



    The alveolar [ɾ] wasn't originally an affectation (well, as much as one can say that Received Pronunciation is one, in and of itself) but a common trait of British English which was somehow lost sometime in the early twentieth century.
    As with many aspects of BE, this characteristic seems to have been pretty unexceptional throughout the south of the country, even amongst the middle-class, up until the 19th century. It then gradually disappeared "from the bottom up", first in the middle classes, then in academia and in broadcast RP, and finally in the upper-class RP, which has been rather keen in sounding more "street-smart" in the last few decades, no doubt due to "downward class-passing". This "bottom-up" change has happened frequently in the UK, e.g. the pronunciation of words such as whine and tissue.

    Basically, it was a common trait of British English which started sounding "posh" and stuffy and was gradually phased out in the 20th century.
    Elderly members of the English upper-class actually still use it – something their grandchildren no doubt consider incredibly uncool!

    It shows up nowadays mostly in places where we would expect a few archaisms, namely Shakesperean theatre (or any other period plays for that matter), as well as, occasionally, in Middle-Earth wizards :)

    LOTR The Fellowship of the Ring - Farewell Dear Bilbo - YouTube

    Haha, that conjuror of cheap tricks…
    For a concise and very learned read on this and other recent mutations in RP I suggest the following article:

    http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/wells/rphappened.htm

    I hope you all find this helpful, and if @enthink is around, I hope he finally gets his answer!
    Last edited by djack; 10-Jan-2014 at 13:16. Reason: note added

  4. #14
    5jj's Avatar
    5jj is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: Pronunciation of intervocalic /r/ as alveolar tap in British English

    Welcome to the forum, djack.
    Quote Originally Posted by djack View Post
    All of those theories were posted as fact in that very short thread
    And now you are adding your opinion as fact. That's not unusual in forums.
    – it's surprising and a bit unfortunate nobody came up with the correct one.
    If you wish to claim that your answer is the absolutely corect one, then you need to add some evidence. Otherwise it's likely to be regarded as just another opinion - interesting, but just an opinion.
    s
    I hope you all find this helpful, and if @enthink is around, I hope he finally gets his answer!
    If enthink is still around, she gets another answer.

    Threads are closed automatically if they have received no response for three months. The absence of responses is a pretty good sign that there is no more interest in the thread. However, as djack has expressed interest, I have re-opened it.
    Last edited by 5jj; 08-Jan-2014 at 06:58.
    Please do not edit your question after it has received a response. Such editing can make the response hard for others to understand.


  5. #15
    djack is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Pronunciation of intervocalic /r/ as alveolar tap [ɾ] in British English

    Quote Originally Posted by 5jj View Post
    Welcome to the forum, djack.
    And now you are adding your opinion as fact. That's not unusual in forums.
    If you wish to claim that your answer is the absolutely corect one, then you need to add some evidence. Otherwise it's likely to be regarded as just another opinion - interesting, but just an opinion. If enthink is still around, she gets another answer.
    I guess one can qualify any statement ever made as an 'opinion', but we can hopefully agree that kind of relativism is self-defeating.

    I think the main problem here was a certain degree of terminological confusion here. I think most people here assumed, being native English speakers and also having been able to follow the now defunct link to the (indeed very "camp horror") Vincent Price performance, that the sound enthink was referring to was exclusively the alveolar trill [r] (or rolled R).
    I, being a native Spanish speaker and focussing on his description of the sound as being used in theatres, assumed enthink was talking about both the alveolar trill [r] and the alveolar tap [ɾ], since to me they are variations of the same letter (soft and hard R), the trill being an emphasis or extension of the single tap, and really being comprised just of several quick consecutive taps.

    In England nowadays, when people say someone is "rolling their Rs", they are focussing on the trill, which when overused is of course a pretty obvious, comical, and rather silly affectation, unless one is very Scottish. When I replied to this, I mainly focussed on the alveolar tap, which used to be a standard part of RP and has died out in the way I described. I have definitely heard people describing as the way the likes of Patrick Stewart or Stephen Fry speak as rolling their Rs, but I can't be sure if they meant the trill only or the single taps as well.

    I apologise for my dismissive tone since when considering enthink's question in that light then of course many of the theories I dismissed are quite correct. However I don't think any decent Shakespearean actors overuse the trill; they really are just speaking upper-class/mildly archaic RP, which is the way I understood the question myself. Without enthink's output we can't know for sure whether (s)he meant both sounds or not, but since (s)he mentions the theatre RP accent (which mostly uses the tap and very rarely the trill) I will expand a bit on what I meant.

    Most British people know or at least have heard the slightly stuffy "posh" accent I described, most often heard in older aristocrats, but for the rest of you guys, they often use alveolar taps for linking Rs as in for a and tether in, after a short stressed vowel in words such as oracle, empirical or verity, but also after dorsal occlusive consonants, as in cringe, crevice or angry.
    Sometimes, when emphasising words with a double R, as in carriage or marriage, or in starting Rs as in ravish or wrong, they often permit themselves a soft, dark trill. Nothing as obvious as a merry Scotsman or as silly as the Vincent Price performance (who I suspect was kind of going for a mild Transilvanian accent, since he normally used a transatlantic accent) – but still definitely there.

    I posted two videos in my previous post. One can dismiss the Hollywood wizard as a genre affectation (Ian McKellen often uses an unusual sort of soft "french J" when pronouncing /r/s in real life, almost like [ʒ]). However, The Woolf recording is full of alveolar taps which are slightly, very softly trilled, and a few clear trills (listen to the word Royal at the 4:50 mark, or roving at 5:08) as typical for an old U-RP accent.

    If one focusses on the tap as that "Spanish or Italian sound" then the link I posted above is pretty concise about it:

    Loss of tapped /r/. A further change from this period was the loss of the alveolar tap [ɾ] as a usual realization of /r/ between vowels, as in very sorry, better off. It has been replaced by the ordinary approximant [ɹ].

    -If anyone really wants to waste their time on the evolution of the R sound (and I suspect most people won't), they can read the 250 page doctoral thesis of a linguistics PhD of the University of Bergen. It only very tangentially comments on the evolution of this particular phoneme but I will quote the following paragraph:

    The following changes are almost complete, in the sense that the “new” pronunciations are now typical of the large majority of Mainstream RP speakers (the old pronunciations are heard with many U-RP speakers):
    [...] /r/ is realised as a post-alveolar approximant in all positions, whereas formerly a tapped[ɹ] was usual in intervocalic positions.

    The rest of the thesis can be downloaded on the foliowing website:

    https://bora.uib.no/handle/1956/2335?show=full


    In any case, thank you for merging the threads; it makes much more sense that way.
    Last edited by djack; 10-Jan-2014 at 13:22.

  6. #16
    bhaisahab's Avatar
    bhaisahab is online now Moderator
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    Default Re: Pronunciation of intervocalic /r/ as alveolar tap [ɾ] in British English

    For the edification of afficionados of this thread I present Mr William Ewart Gladstone, an Englishman of a certain class, born in Liverpool to Scottish parents, educated at expensive English public schools and recorded here speaking in 1888 as British prime minister. http://www.liberalhistory.org.uk/uploads/glads.mp3

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