Pronounce "The One Sun Shone Down on the Brown Ground," Please
July 13, 2012 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Linguistics-filter: What sort of English accent makes "brown," "sun," and "shone" all be pronounced with a similar vowel sound?

I am listening to an audiobook read by a man with what I assume is a British English accent. I've noticed that his pronunciation makes these words sound almost like they rhyme. Roughly, they almost sound like "brun," "sun," and "shun," although I'm sure if he read the sentence "The sun shone on the brown dirt" I would be able to hear the difference in pronunciation.

Other notes: He almost rolls his Rs sometimes at the beginning of a word (as in "The shot rrrang out"), and to my American ears, he has a very "proper-sounding" manner of speaking. He also sounds like an older man -- he has what I would call a "grandfatherly" voice.

I know there are a lot of different British English accents, just as there are a lot of different American English accents. What accent might this man have?
posted by erst to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have the name of the narrator/reader? That might help.
posted by Megami at 11:42 AM on July 13, 2012

Ditto Megami - a lot of voice actors are well known enough to at least have an IMDB entry with clues, if not a wikipedia page.
posted by Sara C. at 11:44 AM on July 13, 2012

posted by Rock Steady at 11:46 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I looked him up and know where and when he was born (pre-WWII, born in England). I am more curious about the accent itself than the specific voice actor. American actors use different accents all the time. I assume British actors are able to do the same.

If more details of the accent are needed to form an opinion, I'm sure I can come up with some.

Really, I'd just like to learn more about British English accents, and my curiosity was piqued by this particular instance of "brown," "sun," and "shone" all sounding similar.
posted by erst at 11:51 AM on July 13, 2012

Based on the rolled r, I'm going to hazard something north of the border too. Does he sound like Ivor Cutler at all?
posted by robself at 11:57 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

English accents are extremely regional, and also class based. Knowing specifically where in England the person was born or any other details about him would be a huge help.

British actors are able to perform different accents, but if the book doesn't call for it, I don't see why an audiobook actor would be doing that. Especially if we're talking about a regional accent and not RP/BBC English.

Keep in mind, too, that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of British accents.
posted by Sara C. at 12:04 PM on July 13, 2012

I have a Scottish accent (although as you say there are a lot of different Scottish accents) and I pronounce all those words differently. Some Scottish accents - especially from the west - will say "brown" almost with two syllables.

If you tell us who it is we can have a listen and take a guess at his accent.

Interesting aside: I read somewhere once that a Scottish accent is the only one where the words "tide" and "tied" are pronounced differently.
posted by neilb449 at 12:07 PM on July 13, 2012

Knowing the name would really help in pinning down the accent here.

Lacking that, is it a very 'clipped' enunciation, with the vowels at the back of the mouth? That's the mark of a certain kind of 'regimental' upper-class RP -- not quite as marked as Terry-Thomas in classic 'cad' mode, but along those lines. Rhoticism is definitely more northern, but Scottish accents tend to push the vowels further forward and differentiate those words.

Can you at least place the vowels in IPA terms?
posted by holgate at 12:08 PM on July 13, 2012

Here are a couple great resources that might help you identify the particular accent, as well as more generally explore British English accents:

The International Dialects of English Archives
The BBC Voices recordings
posted by ootandaboot at 12:09 PM on July 13, 2012

It definitely won't be Scottish, the vowels in those three words are all different, the first one would be a diphthong and the other two would be monophthongs.

If it's rhotic, then it would be most likely a northern variety, although Bristolian/South West varieties are also rhotic. I'd hazard a guess (without knowing more details) at something like Manchester/Yorkshire/Liverpool (which are all massively different to one another), but identifying the vowels in the IPA chart would be helpful in narrowing it down a bit. What other words rhyme?
posted by Scottie_Bob at 12:48 PM on July 13, 2012

This would be a lot easier to answer if you'd let us know the name of the actor. What you describe could even be an African English accent so more specifics on the person would probably get your question answered quicker.
posted by merocet at 12:55 PM on July 13, 2012

Response by poster: I'm apparently having trouble getting my actual question across (which, I suppose, is "is there a specific English accent with a vowel shift that makes "brown" and "shone" sound like the standard American English pronunciation of "sun.")

So instead, please tell me about this specific person's accent while he's reading this specific audiobook:

The actor is the esteemed Roy Dotrice, born in Guernsey in the 1920s, and he has the ability to use a lot of different accents. I'm listening to him reading the audiobook of A Game of Thrones, in which he uses a LOT of different accents to voice different characters. However, I'm referring to the accent he uses when he's NOT voicing any character's dialogue.

I might assume that's his "real" accent, but I also know he's also gifted with using accents and different manners of speaking (and it just occurred to me to try to find video of an interview or something with him to see if that's his "real" accent, but unfortunately I don't have speakers/headphones where I am right now).
posted by erst at 1:13 PM on July 13, 2012

Here's a great video of Roy Dotrice talking about his reading. He doesn't go into much detail about the accents he uses, but he does talk about them a bit. It's worth noting that his reading voice is not his normal speaking voice, so you can't really draw much from the videos of him talking normally. But there are a couple clips of him reading from the book, so maybe that might be helpful.
posted by smoq at 1:23 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Having listened to him on YouTube, that voice has got some confusing factors: firstly he 's 80+ and has the speech patterns of an old man, but more importantly and old man with 70 years of theatre. So you've got a received pronunciation training, the slightly clipped vowels of someone taught to speak before WWII, theatrical production and from what I can tell no particular regional accent. My guess is he'll be able to "do" a hundred or so - it's a great voice to listen to.
posted by cromagnon at 1:26 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The BBC has a load of recordings of region accents here if you're interested but I agree with cromagnon that Roy Dotrice's accent isn't a regional one - I would call it a RADA accent tbh, its not quite RP and it doesn't really exist outside of classically trained actors.
posted by missmagenta at 1:39 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would call it a RADA accent tbh, its not quite RP and it doesn't really exist outside of classically trained actors.

I'd agree -- not as 'luvvie' as Lawrence Olivier, but it's an accent that reminds me of other stage or character actors of his generation or thereabouts. (For instance, Derek Jacobi, who's a little older.) I'd second cromagnon, too: it feels like it was shaped in the 1940s. Picking out any residual regionalisms would be a stretch.
posted by holgate at 2:26 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I pronouce 'sun' and 'shone' very similarly (but not 'brown') and I grew up in Lancashire (think Jane Horrocks) with Liverpudlian parents. However, moving around here changes your accent a lot - I lived with Southerners for years, moved to London, and have a Scots boyfriend, so there;s that variable as well. As cromagnon says, working in theatre does make a difference as you tend to try and speak louder and clearer - my friend is from a theatrical family and her dad has a very 'actorly' way of speech.

As GoT is a fantasy work - albeit with the North in the TV series having something like Yorkshire accents - it might not be a specific accent but one that kind of represents the region, if you see what I mean. But if it's his reading, rather than character, voice, that makes less sense.
posted by mippy at 3:44 PM on July 13, 2012

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