Intro: Voiceover - and that is the end of Citizen Kane. And now the adverts. Oh I wish I could speak more sophisticated English! Then don’t worry - British Native Speaker is here. Watch the video to find out more!
Hello, my name’s Jonathan and well, back in the day the transatlantic or mid-atlantic accent was very popular for us actors. So, today I’m going to show you what the transatlantic accent is, who speaks it, how to speak it and I’ll leave lots of links in this thing called the description. At the end of the video I’ll tell you what happened to the accent too and all I can say is, we need your help on this.
Now, remember, right here you can get a better British or American accent coach who just loves making videos on accents especially for you!¹
Firstly, a bit of background to the accent.
What is the transatlantic or mid-atlantic accent?
Well, it was created for British or American people who wanted to sound more like their folks over the pond. The pond is what we call the Atlantic Ocean. Let’s set the scene - it is the time when silent movies were being replaced by talkies.
Actors had to speak now!
So, my conclusion is that it was mostly American actors in Hollywood who wanted to sound more sophisticated and understandable by adopting some kind of British accent.
If you also think of the films being made in the 1930s, it was upper class families going about their business and they had to sound a bit posh. So, really the accent is a north-eastern American and British RP hybrid at its core, although there are plenty of variations.
Who spoke it?
Some of the most well-known speakers of this accent were Orson Welles, Elizabeth Taylor and Katherin Hepburn. Orson Welles’s character in Citizen Kane has one of the best examples of this accent - link to a clip in the trailer below.
So, let’s just clarify - you can’t really be born with this accent - you have to learn it! Although Cary Grant is often quoted as having a mid-atlantic accent was born in England but lived in the United States. What do you think about his accent? Transatlantic, or natural? Watch a clip of Cary Grant and Katherin Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby - link in the description.
Ok, so let’s get on with how to speak it.
1.It’s non-rhotic or ‘r-less’.
Just like RP but unlike American English replace the ‘r’ sound at the end of words with a schwa sound. Some sources say that you should water as ‘wartah’ but on the clips I have seen, the schwa seems to be used more (as it sounds more natural). So, try a soft schwa sound ‘He gave the water to the porter.’ If you would like to trill or flap the ‘r’ at the beginning or in the middle of words then you could say ‘he gave the water to the ‘real’ porter’. Just like in conservative RP - click above to check my video on that.
ROUND YOUR VOWELS
2.Do not mumble - and pronounce vowels clearly and rounded with lips in a circular shape, not closed.
A perfect demonstration of an old-fashioned elocution lesson can be seen in Singing in the Rain -
Try this - Ta-tay-tee-toe-too.
Also in the same clip and very important is the ‘ah’ sound - think of it like you are going to the doctors and he or she says: say ‘ah’. So, you need to master (oh did you hear?) the following words:
can’t , dance, last, past and so on. In the clip you will see the back and forth between the diction coach and the student - can’t (can’t), can’t (can’t). In fact, that clip shows many of the techniques I am talking about right now.
Now to retain your American accent you can say ‘snob’ and ‘plot’ with the same ‘ah’ sound.
In a clip below you can hear the great actor Vincent Price saying ‘last’ at 0:12 seconds - he says ‘last’ not last and ‘plot’ not plot like LOT. Also, his ‘rs’ are more rhotic, where you can clearly hear his American accent. Again this shows the individual variations as not everyone adopts accents in the same way.
Other variations I have heard are myine for mine and may for me. Cary Grant says flower for floor but he tends to ham up his dialogue quite often.
One last point on vowels - there is no happy tensing so i: is pronounced i at the end of some words ending in y. For example - lady would be pronounced ladi not ladi: as i would say it. By the way click above to check my video on contemporary RP where I talk about happy tensing. Words ending in day can be pronounced Sundi: or Sunday though.
Ok let’s move onto the next part.
This is called ‘pronounce your ts!’
For this feature we will focus on words with t’ or double ‘t’ in the middle. Think about this sentence ‘ pass the butter please Walter’. So the stress is very much on the first syllable - butter, Walter, writer. In American English it is more common to replace the ‘t’ for a ‘d’ sound - as in budder or Walther. Pronounce the ‘l’ fully too.
And the last part is don’t forget a ‘j’ sound after certain words most commonly with Tu or du spelling so for example: It’s Tom’s djuty to control the lighting on Tuesdays.
So, there we have it - a guide to speaking with a transatlantic accent.
Ok and finally, what happened to the accent. Well, post-war filming was much more experimental than pre-war and the accent simply fell out of favour. But wouldn’t it be great if we could revive it and continue to keep this little gem going. I’m up for it, are you? Comment if you would love to revive this accent.
Hit the like button if you enjoyed this video and remember to browse my channel for more videos on accents. A link to a playlist and a video will be appearing soon. So, keep on watching and stay connected! See you by, bye.
hi! it's jon.
Welcome to my blog of free tutorials explaining different British accents and areas of pronunciation. It's a complement to my video channel with video scripts, lessons and sometimes extra info not included in some videos. Click on the image to go to the video.