1920's to 1950's Hollywood film accent?

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shokan

Member
English - US/Canada
I apologize if this question is not appropriate to this forum. I would like to know where the accent heard in old films originated. I don't know the phonetic symbols to show here, but the actors' accent would typically sound like an imitated British accent with dropped 'r's.

Did people actually speak like this in daily life during the 20's to 50's, or was it particularly affected in films only, and where and when did it originate?

Thanks.
 
  • TriglavNationalPark

    Senior Member
    Slovenian (a.k.a. Slovene)
    I believe you are referring to Mid-Atlantic English.

    As the Wikipedia article states, "Mid-Atlantic English was popular in Hollywood films from the 1930s and 1940s, and continues to be associated with people such as Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and William F. Buckley, Jr." I believe it was largely limited to media personalities, other public figures, and some intellectuals.

    EDIT: Wikipedia states that the accent was "also found among members of the upper classes of American society."
     
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    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    the accent heard in old films
    It would help if you specified the actors you are thinking of. Some, such as Charlie Chaplin, Charles Laughton, Stan Laurel, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant and Richard Burton spent some or all of their childhood in England or Wales

    the actors' accent would typically sound like an imitated British accent with dropped 'r's.
    Non-rhotic accents are not exclusively British: in some parts of the United States many people - even white people - drop their r's. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Non_rhotic-whites-usa.png

    However, if it is really true that some posh Americans imitate a British variety of English (and where Frasier and Niles Crane lead, then I suppose others must follow), you may enjoy this Wikipedia article, which conspicuously avoids mentioning the United States: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_cringe
     
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    shokan

    Member
    English - US/Canada
    OK, this explains it. Thanks for the links.

    I have even heard it used by Oliver Hardy in films of the 30s.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    My impression was that this was a high-class New England accent, and was not that different from a British RP accent of the same period. This was the prestige accent in the early era of motion pictures and over time was supplanted by the Hollywood / Californian / General American accent as the perceived standard AmE accent. I don't know whether anyone was specifically imitating BrE speech, or whether it was genuinely the native accent of the speakers just as traditional RP was of a very small minority of British people.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    The accents in British films of the period also sound rather odd now....:cool:
     

    shokan

    Member
    English - US/Canada
    The accents in British films of the period also sound rather odd now....:cool:
    Yes. David Dimbleby in "A Picture of Britain" TV series is aghast at his accent in an old film he made when of university age. It had a tight-lipped inflection that was embarassing to him today. So, I think that film watchers affected these acting accents, emulating the actors' speech, to sound upper crust and sveldt. I know my wife's stepfather was in his late teens or early twenties during WWII and had, to my ears, a very pronounced Humphrey Bogart accent when I met him in his sixties. He seems to have emulated it back then so much that it became his natural way of speaking.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    My impression was that this was a high-class New England accent, and was not that different from a British RP accent of the same period. This was the prestige accent in the early era of motion pictures and over time was supplanted by the Hollywood / Californian / General American accent as the perceived standard AmE accent. I don't know whether anyone was specifically imitating BrE speech, or whether it was genuinely the native accent of the speakers just as traditional RP was of a very small minority of British people.
    This is very close to a perfect description. I might quibble a little with the geographic range, which extended throughout the northeastern U.S., perhaps from Philadelphia north. Listen to recordings of President Franklin Roosevelt for an example. The accent was also common among many radio news announcers (BE: newsreaders).
     

    Ann O'Rack

    Senior Member
    UK
    UK English
    Expanding on Loob's point, British films like "Brief Encounters" contain particularly strange English accents, and I suspect it's to do with mimicking "the upper classes". Listen to voice clips of Princess Elizabeth from then and HRH Queenie now and you'll see the two accents from the same person are very different. (She's still posh nowadays, though.)
     

    shokan

    Member
    English - US/Canada
    Is that the Cholmondley Warner accent?
    Not familiar with that. The film I mentioned was a home movie of sorts of him and his friend driving around the country. There was a short clip from it in the "Picture.." recent series I mentioned. He makes fun of himself by mimicking his accent in the film ("I can't believe I was saying "cat" as "Kyett"").
     

    Phil-Olly

    Senior Member
    Scotland, English
    Anyone seen 'Atonement', the film of Ian McEwan's wonderful novel? Set in England, during the thirties, the action of the first part takes place in a posh country house.

    The actors were all trained to speak with the accent of the time. They must have had enormous fun doing so - not to mention the difficulty of keeping a straight face!
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Last edited by a moderator:

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Moderator note: Please make at least a cursory attempt to address the thread question:

    I would like to know where the accent heard in old films originated. I don't know the phonetic symbols to show here, but the actors' accent would typically sound like an imitated British accent with dropped 'r's.

    Did people actually speak like this in daily life during the 20's to 50's, or was it particularly affected in films only, and where and when did it originate?
    Excursions into other arenas may be interesting, but unless they directly help to answer the thread questions, they should be held for their own threads. (That's a roundabout way of saying that they will be deleted.)

     
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