A Mid-Atlantic accent (also known as a Transatlantic accent) is a cultivated or acquired accent of the English language once found in the American upper class and taught for use as a standard in American schools for actors. It is not a vernacular accent typical of any location or any natural variety, but a consciously learned blend of American English and British English, intended to favor neither.
Mid-Atlantic speech patterns and vocabulary are also used by some Anglophone expatriates, many adopting certain features of the accent of their place of residence. It was formerly used by American actors who adopted some features of British pronunciation until the mid-1960s. The terms "Transatlantic" and "Mid-Atlantic" are sometimes used in Britain to refer, often critically, to the speech of British public figures (often in the entertainment industry) who affect a quasi-American accent.
International media tend to reduce the number of mutually unintelligible versions of English to some extent, and Mid-Atlantic English tends to avoid Britishisms or Americanisms so that it can be equally understandable and acceptable on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Mid-Atlantic English was the dominant dialect among the Northeastern American upper class through the first half of the 20th century. As such, it was popular in the theatre and other forms of elite culture in that region. American cinema began in the early 1900s in New York City and Philadelphia before becoming largely transplanted to Los Angeles beginning in the mid-1910s.
With the evolution of talkies in the late 1920s, voice was first heard in motion pictures. It was then that the majority of audiences first heard Hollywood actors speaking predominantly in Mid-Atlantic English. Some had been raised with it, many adopted it starting out in the theatre, and others simply affected it to help their careers. Among those from Hollywood's Golden Era of the 1930s associated with the accent are British-born Cary Grant, and Americans Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Joan Crawford and Irene Dunne.
British expatriates John Houseman, Henry Daniell, Anthony Hopkins, Camilla Luddington, and Angela Cartwright exemplified the accent, as did Americans Elizabeth Taylor, Eleanor Parker, Grace Kelly, Jane Wyatt, Eartha Kitt, Agnes Moorehead, Patrick McGoohan, William Daniels, Vincent Price, Clifton Webb, John McGiver, Jonathan Harris, Roscoe Lee Browne, and Richard Chamberlain, and Canadians Christopher Plummer, John Vernon and Lorne Greene.
Orson Welles notably spoke in a mid-Atlantic accent in the 1941 film Citizen Kane, as did many of his co-stars, such as Joseph Cotten. Actors such as Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda and John Wayne portrayed serious roles speaking in various American-English accents, and the export of American cinema familiarized the rest of the world with their features.[clarification needed]
Others outside the entertainment industry known for speaking Mid-Atlantic English include William F. Buckley, Jr., Gore Vidal, George Plimpton, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Norman Mailer, Diana Vreeland, Maria Callas, Cornelius Vanderbilt IV, The monologuist Ruth Draper's recorded "The Italian Lesson" gives an example of this East Coast American upper-class diction of the 1940s.
Use of the Mid-Atlantic English accent declined rapidly after World War II.
Mid-Atlantic English was cultivated by American elites in some areas of the Northeastern United States. Prior to World War II, some of their institutions cultivated a norm influenced by the Received Pronunciation of Southern England as an international norm of English pronunciation. Recordings of American presidents Grover Cleveland (born in New Jersey, raised in Central New York) and Ohio-native William McKinley show their oratory employed a Mid-Atlantic accent. Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley's successor and a native of New York, had a more natural non-rhotic, upper-class accent.
Recordings of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who came from a privileged New York family and was educated at Groton, a private Massachusetts preparatory school, had a number of characteristic patterns. His speech is non-rhotic; one of Roosevelt's most frequently heard speeches has a falling diphthong in the word fear, which distinguishes it from other forms of surviving non-rhotic speech in the United States. "Linking R" appears in Roosevelt's delivery of the words "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself"; compare also Roosevelt's delivery of the words "naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."
According to William Labov, teaching of this pronunciation declined sharply after the end of World War II. As a result, this American version of a "posh" accent has all but disappeared even among the American upper classes. The clipped English of George Plimpton and William F. Buckley, Jr. were vestigial examples.
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- Mark Ronson has a Mid-Atlantic accent, usually referred to as a 'Trans-Atlantic drawl' by English journalists. Mark Ronson was born in London and the moved to New York during his school years, which would appear to account for his accent.
- A contemporary comedic example of a Mid-Atlantic accent appears in the television sitcom Frasier used by the Crane brothers played by Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce, as well as the aristocratic accent spoken by Pete Campbell in the drama series Mad Men.
- Mark Hamill's vocal portrayal of Batman villain the Joker adopts a highly theatrical Mid-Atlantic accent throughout the character's many animation and video game appearances.
- Harry Shearer's vocal portrayal of Mr. Burns, Kelsey Grammer's vocal portrayal of Sideshow Bob, and Dan Castellaneta's vocal portrayal of Sideshow Mel in The Simpsons.
- Billy Zane, Kate Winslet and Frances Fisher spoke with a Mid-Atlantic accent in James Cameron's Titanic (1997).
- Jon Lovitz spoke in a highly theatrical Mid-Atlantic accent for his character Master Thespian on Saturday Night Live.
- Tabitha St. Germain uses a Mid-Atlantic accent for the voice of Rarity in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
- For her role as Amelia Earhart, Amy Adams spoke with a Mid-Atlantic accent in Night at the Museum 2 (2009).
- US-based British infomercial host Anthony Sullivan (also known for the show PitchMen with Billy Mays), speaks with a Mid-Atlantic accent which is a combination of his native Devon accent and an American accent. As a result it doesn't sound distinctly British or American, but was cultivated so he could be understood by US viewers and yet still appeal to those who wanted to buy something from a Brit. As a result, he pronounces such words as 'potato' and 'tomato' in the American way in his infomercials, but still used some Briticisms.
Mid-Atlantic English is usually learned in one of five ways:
- Naturally, by spending extended time in various Anglophone communities, typically in North America.
- At a boarding school in America prior to the 1960s (after which it fell out of vogue).
- Intentionally for stage practice or other use. A version codified by voice coach Edith Skinner, American Theater Standard, is widely taught in acting schools.
- By non-native Anglophones, from different British and American sources.[clarification needed]
- Mid-Atlantic English was required for New York City schoolteachers in the 1930s.
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* only occurs in unstressed syllables
|Plosive||p b||t d||k ɡ|
|Fricative||f v||θ ð||s z||ʃ ʒ||ʍ||h|
/ʍ/ is used in most words spelled wh. /h/ may be voiced ([ɦ]) between two vowel sounds. Linking R is used, but intrusive R is not permitted. The consonant clusters /tj/, /dj/, /nj/, /sj/ and /lj/ (as in tune, due, new, pursue, evolution) are all present, as found in Received Pronunciation, but in few North American dialects (see yod-dropping). In /sj/ and /lj/, yod-dropping is optional.
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- Pearl Harbor speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (sound file)
- "Chapter 7. The Restoration of Post-Vocalic /r/". Web.archive.org. 2005-11-18. Retrieved 2014-04-01.
- Tsai, Michelle (2008-02-28). "Why Did William F. Buckley Jr. talk like that?". Slate. Retrieved 2008-02-28.
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- Skinner (1990)
- Skinner (1990:335)
- Skinner (1990:102)
- Skinner (1990:336)
- Early radio episodes of The Guiding Light featuring Mid-Atlantic English
- The Brian Lehrer Show: Puhfect Together