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What is a Mid Atlantic accent?


These are the EXACT steps I use to teach Actors (from all over the world) how to bridge the gap between process and performance.

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by Katherine Beck in American accent tips
What exactly is the Mid Atlantic accent?

Have you seen Hollywood on Netflix? Well, one of my students saw it and asked me to define the Mid Atlantic accent for her. Often times I get people asking me to explain the difference between the Mid Atlantic accent and a Standard American accent so let’s go through it together.

A Transatlantic or MidAtlantic accent sounds somewhere in between American and British. It’s a made up accent that you can hear in the old black and white movies during the time of Ingrid Bergman and Katharine Hepburn.

If you’ve ever seen Edith Skinner’s book, Speak with Distinction  this is like the written guide into this accent. Edith Skinner pedagogy came from her study with William Tilly, an Australian born phonetician who taught English pronunciation. The first publication of Speak with Distinction was originally written for her students at the Carnegie Institute of Technology as a guide to what she called Good Speech for classic texts. 

Edith’s Skinner’s Good Speech was a North American dialect created for classical texts with emphasis on clarity and articulation.  It has been called, ‘Theatre Standard’ or ‘Standard American’.  It is most notably heard in Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce.  It is a dialect that is not spoken by the general American public. For that reason a revised edition now incorporates information on the General American dialect as well.

The problem with the Skinner method is we learned to speak in a way that wasn’t really reflected in day to day speech. It served well for classical text but not for modern day Film and TV. Therefore, the General American accent was born and is what you hear today. You can think of it as an American accent of no specific region.

The General American accent is also a non existent accent. It’s a well spoken American accent but it’s stripped from any sort of influences. The General American accent is great when you are learning the American accent but when you feel comfortable with the sounds, the intonation, the rhythm and stress you will want to enhance your accent so that it fits with your character. Find your character’s voice. There are so many different American dialects out there therefore there is not one way to sound American. Let your character give you clues onto the nuances of how they speak and that will be more interesting than listening to a perfect General American accent.

So that’s what a Mid Atlantic accent is. It’s fun to learn though you may likely never require learning it for a role.

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These are the EXACT steps I use to teach Actors (from all over the world) how to bridge the gap between process and performance.

Grab my free guide