How to speak with a transatlantic accent?
June 15, 2008 8:28 PM   Subscribe

How can I learn to speak with a Transatlantic accent?

I've searched for various websites and paid resources that might allow me to pick this up, but I've been thus far foiled. Any tips?
posted by invitapriore to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
can you explain what you think a transatlantic accent might be?
posted by parmanparman at 9:01 PM on June 15, 2008

I think the term you're looking for is a Mid-Atlantic Accent.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:04 PM on June 15, 2008

Response by poster: Cool Papa Bell is correct. It's for a project where I'm required to speak like a 60s actor or public figure who speaks in that manner. I was under the impression, however, that I was the one asking the question, rokusan.

In any case, to my ear, it is more than over-articulation and a few elements of RP.
posted by invitapriore at 9:18 PM on June 15, 2008

If you can pick up accents by listening, you might try to get books on tape set in that period (choose a narrator with the target gender). The narrator will probably speak in several voices that match that accent. Best of all, his or her normal speech will probably be in contrast to that, so listening closely will help you pick out the changes in intonation and vowels that occur.

Also, I find that many British actors (except for those who can actually do American accents) tend to affect the transatlantic accent when trying to sound like an American, so listening to dramas on BBC7 with a British actor playing an American is another source to listen to.

If this is a serious enough project, there are voice and accent coaches, and any of them would probably have RP and the Mid-Atlantic Accent in their repertoire.

I'm relieved you're doing this for a project and not to as a ruse to meet women, as this would no doubt inspire a slew of "fedora" suggestions.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:31 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Watch Cary Grant movies. I did a simulated spit-take when he said, in "To Catch a Thief," that he was from Nebraska. Or was it Omaha? Either way, it seemed unbelievable.
posted by gjc at 9:33 PM on June 15, 2008

I was under the impression, however, that I was the one asking the question...

Well, heck, you've already got the tone nailed!

There are dialect coaches who will teach this, as it's still useful for stage productions and such. You could look up a few of those from your local telephone directory. If you're not near anyone directly helpful, studying old movies might be your best bet, then. Citizen Kane? Katherine Hepburn?

Worst case, you get to watch some great old films.
posted by rokusan at 9:34 PM on June 15, 2008

Response by poster: Haha, sorry rokusan, that was quite snarky. I've been sick and stuffy today, so pardon my snottiness. Thanks for the tips.
posted by invitapriore at 9:40 PM on June 15, 2008

. . . Canadians deliberately trying to sound more upper-class.

Never heard that one before. Canadians would laugh at them.
posted by Neiltupper at 9:52 PM on June 15, 2008

I suggest you buy this, listen very carefully to everything Thurston Howell III says, and do your best to imitate his manner of speaking, inflections, and pronunciation. It'll be a lot cheaper than hiring a dialect coach.
posted by dersins at 10:03 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is what I would refer to as the Boarding School Accent. It explains why very wealthy kids from Boston or Texas do not sound like they are from Boston or Texas, but rather from somewhere between Phillips Andover and Eton.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:08 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Probably a bit expensive, but this New Zealand "accent boot camp" claims to have three separate approaches to getting a mid-Atlantic accent suitable for an international business career.

I guess what I would do is go watch a lot of old movies with actors using this accent. For instance, Hitchcock's Suspicion -- with Cary Grant -- has an entirely British cast but was filmed entirely in Hollywood, and the characters speak a very deliberate mid-Atlantic English. There are endless choices.

You could also look for long-form interviews with public figures of the sort you're going to emulate.

It would help to know more about what you're going for here. There is an almost extinct patrician New England accent -- FDR, William F. Buckley, George Plimpton (and Thurston Howell III!), but that may not be what you're going for. (DarlingBri's "boarding school accent".) British expatriates who modified their accent for an American audience, like Cary Grant, don't really sound much like that at all, as they took a Midwestern standard broadcasting accent as their target.

Then there are people like Peter Jennings, who took his Canadian accent and made it more American, then spent years in Britain for ABC and picked up a distinctive RP flair. Then there's that ... thing ... that Madonna (Bay City reprazent!) uses.

In a sense these all fit the bill, but I have a feeling you're going for something more like Frasier or Niles Crane. Stuffy, pompous, plummy, and so forth, just not necessarily funny. Watch a lot of Kelsey Grammer, perhaps?
posted by dhartung at 12:20 AM on June 16, 2008

Mid-Atlantic is everything from Boston to Baltimore: Thurston Howell III to Fran Dresher to Rocky.
posted by three blind mice at 3:17 AM on June 16, 2008

Mid-Atlantic is everything from Boston to Baltimore: Thurston Howell III to Fran Dresher to Rocky.

True, but it also means that particular American/English mixed up accent that, as so many have described, is used all the time in old movies.
posted by ob at 6:48 AM on June 16, 2008

As Monday is Dizzy's Day of Picking Nits, I beg to differ, three blind mice.
A true "mid-atlantic accent" is a close but not exact analog to a "Standard American (Received) Pronunciation Accent"-- an uninflected, non-dipthonged, relatively placeless and bland manner of speaking that is, to some ears, "posh" or "educated".
Kelsey Grammer, playing Frasier, is pretty spot on, as noted above.
Watching him and listening to him is a good start, but if you really want to nail it, you'll need access to the International Phonetic Alphabet. You can try googling it.
The IPA is a method of reproducing different speech patterns EXACTLY.
It takes a little effort to master, but can be a valuable tool.
posted by Dizzy at 6:53 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh--- easiest path-- call on your local college's Speech Department or Theatre Department-- they'll have excellent resources for IPA or other ways to help!
posted by Dizzy at 6:55 AM on June 16, 2008

A mid-Atlantic accent has nothing to do with the mid-Atlantic states, Thurston Howell III (who spoke in a Larchmont Lockjaw), or Fran Dresher (dunno what you call that, uh, speech mannerism). It's a non-regional accent, and in fact "trans-Atlantic" might be a more apt name for it.

Cary Grant's probably the best and most recent example of this, although a lot of American actors in 1930s movies spoke some variation on it—I get the impression that this is because in the transition from silents to talkies, their voice coaches wanted them to sound classier, ie, more English. I think you're hearing a mild version of it in Myrna Loy's acting in The Thin Man.

Jennifer Jason Leigh did a wicked version of it in Hudsucker Proxy.
posted by adamrice at 7:01 AM on June 16, 2008

live in England for a year or 2. It seems many north americans who do this come back with a different accent.
posted by canoehead at 2:14 PM on June 16, 2008


Jennifer Jason Leigh was riffing on Kate Hepburn's unreconstructed Connecticut accent (a subset of a classic New England one, but with slighty different vowel placement and choppier breathing patterns than found in, say, a Maine or Mass....), which sounds verrry different from the Standard American we've been trying to pin down.

To my mind, these days THE classic uninflected accent we've all been nattering on about is owned by Robert Siegel of NPR.
posted by Dizzy at 7:28 AM on June 17, 2008

« Older career options?   |   Where can I find wall art where the majority of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.