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How does Lionel Logue sound Aussie in The King's Speech?
January 29, 2011 11:16 AM   Subscribe

What features mark Geoffrey Rush's character in The King's Speech as being Australian?

Geoffrey Rush is Australian, of course, but in the film he talked with what (to me) sounded like an RP accent. However, on two occasions in the film (at the play audition and at his first meeting with Albert) people marked him as Australian by his speech. I'm wondering what features made him sound Australian - his wife sounded Aussie to me, but he did not.

Here are a couple clips, for reference: trailer 1 2 3

I'm not super informed on British or Australian accents (I am American), but I do have a background in linguistics, so technical answers are welcome.
posted by Gordafarin to Writing & Language (31 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
I had this same question and several people have suggested to me that this intentional. That only aristocratic Britons would recognize that his accent was Australian.
posted by proj at 11:18 AM on January 29, 2011


Well, I've known a number of older Australians who were trained to speak RP, and they sounded like him. I certainly recognised the accent, but of course I also knew that the character was Australian beforehand so that may distort things.
posted by atrazine at 11:25 AM on January 29, 2011


Geoffrey Rush has a 'Cultivated Australian English accent'. From Wikipedia:

"Three main varieties of Australian English are spoken according to linguists: broad, general and cultivated. They are part of a continuum, reflecting variations in accent. They often, but not always, reflect the social class or educational background of the speaker.

"Broad Australian English is recognisable and familiar to English speakers around the world because it is used to identify Australian characters in non-Australian films and television programs (often in the somewhat artificial "stage" Australian English version). Examples are film/television personalities Steve Irwin and Paul Hogan. Slang terms ocker, for a speaker, and Strine, a shortening of the word Australian for the dialect, are used in Australia.

"The majority of Australians speak with the general Australian accent. This predominates among modern Australian films and television programmes and is used by, for example, Eric Bana, Dannii Minogue and Hugh Jackman.

"Cultivated Australian English has some similarities to British Received Pronunciation, and is often mistaken for it. Cultivated Australian English is spoken by some within Australian society, for example Cyril Ritchard, Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis."
posted by hot soup girl at 11:38 AM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the difference comes when you compare how Rush is speaking with how Helena Bonham Carter is speaking. Geoffrey Rush doesn't sound specifically Australian to me (i.e. he doesn't have that "broad" accent stereotypical of middle/lower class Australians), but Carter sounds like the absolute stuffiest upper crust RP speaker. That is Arrr Fuckin' Peeeee my friend.

Rush's approach here also sounds like someone I know who is from a very well off Scottish family - he doesn't sound "Scottish" as most Americans think of it (he would mock "Scottish" accents as being low class, if he were the sort of person who mocked people for being low class), he sounds sort of English, but not as RP-ish as upper crust Brits - just kind of garden variety British.
posted by Sara C. at 12:00 PM on January 29, 2011


Helena Bonham Carter is speaking the Marked RP of the pre-1960s aristocracy rather than the RP taught in grammar schools to clever sons of butchers and postmen. Very few people speak this way any more (none of them under 50) which is just as well, since it can shade into incomprehensibility even to RP speakers.
posted by atrazine at 12:17 PM on January 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Logue also lived in London for many, many years, and that affects your accent. Plus he's a speech therapist; makes sense he'd want to be sure his clients heard what they wanted to hear.
posted by tzikeh at 12:29 PM on January 29, 2011


Thanks, I've always wondered what that was called, and what exactly made it sound different from more "modern" or middle class ways of speaking.

The best example of this sort of thing is the Up series, especially the first two installments. You really hear a noticeable difference between the way the uber-posh kids speak and the way the middle class kids speak.
posted by Sara C. at 12:30 PM on January 29, 2011


(The Up series also features a kid who emigrates to Australia as a teenager, and it's interesting to see his accent change as he grows up.)
posted by Sara C. at 12:35 PM on January 29, 2011


Actually I'm not sure that any of the kids from the Up series are really upper class. Upper middle I'd say, certainly not aristos. To be fair, to anyone not in the upper middle class or above, it's not easy to tell the difference.
posted by atrazine at 12:42 PM on January 29, 2011


I have met Australians that spoke like Rush's character. At first I would assume they were American affecting a British accent or with a mid-Atlantic accent. Sometimes the Australians sounded British. Occasionally I have met English people that sound "Australian" to me.
posted by fifilaru at 12:44 PM on January 29, 2011


It's more regional than class related. An Australian can usually tell which city another is from. I was born in Adelaide so my accent is already more RP than say someone from Queensland. Add to that the fact that many Australians travel and live overseas while young which further affects accents.

Geoffrey Rush has also had years of acting and his accent is a very common one among those who have done more classic works.

You would be mistaken though to assume the broadness of an accent is indicative of their class.
posted by gomichild at 12:55 PM on January 29, 2011


> It's more regional than class related.

As gomichild says, there are some regional differences in the Australian Accent; however, they are subtle and often overstated. Regional differences tend to be expressed in vocabulary rather than accent. Again, from Wikipedia:

"There are no strong variations in accent and pronunciation across different states and territories. Regional differences in pronunciation and vocabulary are small in comparison to those of the British and American English, and Australian pronunciation is determined less by region than by social, cultural and educational influences. There is some subtle regional variation. In Tasmania and Queensland, words such as "dance" and "grant" are usually heard with the older pronunciation of these words, using [æː]. In South Australia [aː] is the norm. In other states both pronunciations can be heard. Some speakers in those areas where [æː]/[æ] is found prefer to use [aː] in such words as a sign of higher social class. In words such as "pass", "can't", "last", all regional variants use [aː].There are no strong variations in accent and pronunciation across different states and territories. Regional differences in pronunciation and vocabulary are small in comparison to those of the British and American English, and Australian pronunciation is determined less by region than by social, cultural and educational influences. There is some subtle regional variation. In Tasmania and Queensland, words such as "dance" and "grant" are usually heard with the older pronunciation of these words, using [æː]. In South Australia [aː] is the norm. In other states both pronunciations can be heard. Some speakers in those areas where [æː]/[æ] is found prefer to use [aː] in such words as a sign of higher social class. In words such as "pass", "can't", "last", all regional variants use [aː]."

And:

"Regional variations in pronunciation and accent of Australian English are very minor compared to the variations in British, Irish and North American English, sufficiently so that linguists are divided whether they exist at all. Overall, pronunciation is determined less by region than by social and educational influences."
posted by hot soup girl at 1:21 PM on January 29, 2011


I can pick it up from Rush's vowels in a couple of the clips (the diphthong in 'here' in clip 1, for instance), but it reminds me of the common RPish elements of upper-class speech in the "anglosphere" during the first half of the 20th century.

An useful point of comparison might be Robert Menzies.
posted by holgate at 1:46 PM on January 29, 2011


An Australian can usually tell which city another is from.

Heh? Regional variations are incredibly minor.

On the issue of class, I grew up with an Australian accent heavily marked with an English accent because of my parents who were from the UK. Certainly nothing to do with class - we were solidly working class. But so many Australians share this background that it is not at all uncommon.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:46 PM on January 29, 2011


I might not be able to tell from how he spoke, but what he said. Stroppy as hell. Good on ya.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:56 PM on January 29, 2011


gomichild: "An Australian can usually tell which city another is from."
wingless_angel: "Heh? Regional variations are incredibly minor."

Maybe minor, but extremely obvious, especially the variations between Brisbane / Sydney / Melbourne / Adelaide. Perth is a bit less obvious (but just get them to say "Perth" and you can usually pick it ;-). There's much less of a specific Darwin accent, to me at least - more of a generic NT / Top End one. Country accents are different again - there's a whole spectrum of them that vary continuously as you sweep down from Qld through NSW and Vic, across through SA, and back up again through WA - but the city accents are much more specific.

Funniest example of this is someone I used to work with. I guessed "born North island of NZ, early education there, later private primary school in Sydney, public high school in Melbourne" after talking to her for ~10 minutes, and was pretty much spot-on.
posted by Pinback at 3:45 PM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, nth'ing the obvious regional variations. Also, a lot of that wiki article reads as absolute horseshit to me, for instance the claim In words such as "pass", "can't", "last", all regional variants use [aː] is probably true of the typical Melbournian accent, but I'd bet good money a typical Addlebrainian would use the ae version.

Spending a couple of months in a non-English-speaking country and boarding a Qantas flight home provides hours of amusement, as you listen to the many and varied Australian accents of the assorted hosties and passengers and play guess-the-city.
posted by coriolisdave at 4:02 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


As hot soup girl said, Geoffrey Rush is using Cultivated Australian English which is easily recognizable as non-British to Australians, but perhaps not so much overseas, as it's not usually used in movies.

Ironically you recognized the wife's accent as Australian, but Jennifer Ehle is American/British, and (as an Australian) I found her accent seemed overly broad at times.

In the second clip you linked above, you can hear some Australian "marker" vowel sounds like:
- When Colin Firth says the e in "equal" he says it with the RP iiiii sound, while Geoffrey Rush uses the diphthong eh-ee which is typically Australian.
- Rush says "How about", in the Australian way with a diphthong "ah-oo" in each word (oo as in book), rather than the RP way which is just the "ah" sound.
posted by dave99 at 5:34 PM on January 29, 2011


I am very sceptical of Pinback's Sherlock-Holmes-like ability to tell which city people are from in Australia. Regional variations are extremely slight, as others have said. And even if Pinback can do it, it's not true to say "an Australian" can normally pull off this trick.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 10:50 PM on January 29, 2011


You really can't pick the difference between, say, the average Sydneysider's accent and the average Melburnian's? Huh, go figure … granted, there's a quite a bit of variation within each place due to travel and education, but they're still usually pretty distinct.

If it's any consolation, I'm crap with other accents - beyond a vague handwave-y East Coast / West Coast / Mid-west / Southern with Americans, or UK / Western Europe / Eastern Europe, I can't pick 'em. Can't even pick between Irish and Scottish reliably…
posted by Pinback at 12:43 AM on January 30, 2011


I suspect that I speak with an Cultivated Australian English accent. I did a lot of rhetoric as a child and learned to pronounce all my goddamn letters. I'm often asked where I'm from, to the point where I had one woman become visibly irate when I told her that no, I'm not actually English, I'm from Brisbane.
posted by Jilder at 2:07 AM on January 30, 2011


What features mark Geoffrey Rush's character in The King's Speech as being Australian?

Um...the way he says 'Lionel'?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:09 AM on January 30, 2011


I'm trying to find an Australian chart for John Wells' lexical sets, which shows vowel differences based on 24 distinct categories, but I'm struggling (but do check out the RP/AmE comparison). It's a really excellent way to quantify the sorts of feature differences that you're picking up on, but can't quite describe; like how Dave99 is describing sounds above, which show up as the FLEECE and PALM vowels in the sets.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:09 AM on January 30, 2011


Just from the the first clip, where Rush says, "I haven't told her about us. Sit down, relax", it's pretty clear to an Australian that he's an Aussie when he says "her" and "us". The vowels in "her" and "us" don't sound clipped and restricted.

I imagine the queen character might say something like a tight "huh" for "her". Also, the vowel Rush uses for "us" is quite Australian; I hear a bit of "ars" in it.

I'm surprised by the second vowel in "relax" (the "ax" part); that's quite a lot posher than most people speak in Australia nowadays.
posted by surenoproblem at 5:39 AM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm crap with accents, but, c'mon, anyone can tell if you're from Adelaide the second you say "school" or "dance".
posted by surenoproblem at 5:42 AM on January 30, 2011


While we're here, I was wondering whether Colin Firth (as George)'s difficulty pronouncing r's (they were very w-ish) was a characteristic of George's speech or of some general British sub-accent. I don't believe it's just the way Firth talks or I would think I would have noticed it elsewhere.
posted by dfan at 7:30 AM on January 30, 2011


> While we're here, I was wondering whether Colin Firth (as George)'s difficulty pronouncing r's (they were very w-ish) was a characteristic of George's speech or of some general British sub-accent.

In addition to his stammer, George VI had a mild rhotacism; you can hear it in the original recording of his speech.
posted by hot soup girl at 4:46 PM on January 30, 2011


From Adelaide here. I have been mercilessly mocked in New South Wales for my "fancy vowels".

I can tell you in real life (I have worked with him), Rush speaks in a milder version of the accent he serves up in the film. He's Englishing up a little, Robert Menzies style, it's period correct, but it's not a zillion miles from the way he normally speaks.
posted by Wolof at 10:55 PM on January 30, 2011


From Adelaide here. I have been mercilessly mocked in New South Wales for my "fancy vowels".

When you say pull, pool, Paul and pole, does it sound like you're saying the same word four times?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:02 PM on January 30, 2011


I also speak with something close to a cultivated Australian English accent, although I've picked up some odd phrasings and pronunciations from long-time friends who grew up in Germany and Ireland. People who speak in a general Aussie accent regularly ask where I'm from and are surprised when the answer isn't "England". People who speak ocker don't bother asking, they just tease me for being posh.

In the movie, Rush is doing that accent, but in what I'd consider a more old-fashioned manner. Period correct, as Wolof says.
posted by harriet vane at 2:44 AM on January 31, 2011


When you say pull, pool, Paul and pole, does it sound like you're saying the same word four times?

No, it absolutely does not.
posted by Wolof at 10:51 PM on January 31, 2011


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