Why do people in old movies talk weird?

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Somehow this seems appropo.


I never thought anyone actually talked this way until I heard Sebastian Gunningham, a senior executive VP at Amazon. I don’t know if it’s affected or natural, but he sounds perfectly natural (and exceedingly wealthy) when speaking.


So…why do all of his examples sound British, while none of the actual users of “Transatlantic” sound remotely British? They just sound like New Yorkers with their noses pinched shut.

Not really on topic, but that is a very odd map in the background partway through. Its as though a few international boundaries are shown, but most are not, Egypt really stands out. Along with a few other odd choices of line work… (Sorry, whenever I see a map, no matter the context, I always have to stop and examine it).


I think it’s showing the borders of areas that were British-occupied, perhaps? If not that, I have no idea.


I suppose Cary Grant’s having been born in England might have something to do with that affiliation.


I don’t think the British aristocracy were or are taught to speak as they do, they just speak as they do because by definition everyone they are brought up with speaks like that. At least, does this guy think Prince William came out speaking cockney or something?

Which reminds me:

The RP accent is a result of everyone at court aping Mad George’s atrocious attempt at English. They’re horribly twisted versions of German vowels. Fashion is a harsh mistress.


mad king george? do you mean george iii (b 1738, London)? Or someone else?

Also Bob Hope, Charles Laughton, David Niven, Reginald Owen, Leslie Howard, Claude Rains… all big around that time.

Indeed - but they don’t get taught it. That implies they start life with some other accent.

Are people losing vocal character?
Are our voices becoming less interesting?

Is it harder nowadays to go an Impersonator Act, for example, because movie stars just don’t have the distinctive voices we had decades ago?

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Mid-Atlantic accent?

Claude Rains…I didn’t see that coming.


Mexico is off, especially the Baja California Peninsula right below California in the US, its waaay too skinny.

It doesn’t have anything to do with tricking people. This sort of mode of speech is not unusual in New England, although it has become less common than it was. People who travel tend to have more cosmopolitan speech patterns. And if you live in a university town where people travel all of the time, you pick things up. There used to be elocution lessons in schools here, but they were mostly dropped years ago, The “fakery” is probably assumed because of people in Hollywood using New York / New England accents and dialects to portray Eastern characters, but they have always done this with other region’s accents also.


I wish I could say I see what you did there. But somehow I can’t.


I always thought that George Plimpton and William F. Buckley had it. I’ve heard it called “received pronunciation” (I just realized that’s probably what @GilbertWham meant by “RP”) – they didn’t refer to it as such in the video, did they? David Wevill had a little bit of it (I was in his class once, before I had any idea who he is, or who he was married to) but I think he’s Canadian by way of Japan. These days I think Rafi Zabor speaks with it, but very, very slightly.

They did!

No, RP is straight-up English. But some have compared RP to the traditional midatlantic/transatlantic pronunciation as ways of being more clear. This comparison leads to why the article mentions “the British upper crust” - because RP seems to be associated with a lot of British problems with classism. But elocution and class have never seemed strongly correlated in the US.