Saturday, January 7, 2012

The English accents in my head

Another line from You Know You're a Writer When...


Sometimes you think in an English accent. 


Guilty as charged. I blame this propensity for thinking in some form of British accent or another while writing a British-set story. It's awkward, though, when you're out with your very American friends in New York--you know, the city that I am native to--and you pronounce the word "literally" like "litch-rally."

When I write dialogue, I have that classic writer thing of having different voices in my head, with their different accents, speaking. I think that's where writers can be considered schizophrenic.

Clearly, we don't have recordings from 1800 or even from 1820, so my characters' voices are taking on a definite RP quality as they talk. "RP" is short for Received Pronunciation, which is basically the default British accent Americans think of. BBC English. Jane Austen adaptations. It's the standard English accent taught to actors as well.

Here are the characteristics of RP.

RP is derived from the accent of the 18th-century and 19th-century aristocracy, particularly those who attended the public schools (for Americans, this would be private boarding schools) and universities. In other words, it was the accent of the upper classes. RP is basically a southern English accent that is not based on a particular region of Britain. It's more about education, social standing, and training rather than where one is brought up. The Crawley family on Downton Abbey, for instance, seem to spend the bulk of their time on their Yorkshire estate. Yet the family speak in RP, not Yorkshire accents.



I imagine my 1801 characters to speak RP, though I don't know that that was the accent of Jane Austen's time. I would suspect that the gentry and nobility spoke differently from other people, if only to distinguish themselves.

Just to be clear, the RP/ King's English-of-1800 accent in my head does not sound like this, Virginia Woolf's recorded voice. 

I think Miles has a more modern version, since he's traveled so much. He might have a bit of an encroaching American thing going, having lived there for a few years, or maybe his speech isn't as precise as it used to be. Lord and Lady Banston both have very very clipped English accents, posh and proper and all that.

Even so, since I don't know how people would have spoken properly or otherwise back then, the English accents in my head sort of takes on the quality of Eddie Redmayne or Benedict Cumberbatch. Not bad, eh?

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