This interesting article (which would, along with "AMISTAD anachronisms,"

the above "Oscars," and even Gareth's column, all be in the online magazine

that we don't have) was originally in the New York Times. I found it in the

Toronto Globe and Mail, 30 December 1997, pg. C2:

British actors cross the linguistic divide

By Michael McGough

New York Times Service

(over photo of Leslie Howard and Vivien Leigh) TALKING THE TALK/ More and

more Britons are learning American accents to take on roles in Hollywood.

What is perplexing about this traffic in verbal versatility is that it is

largely in one direction.

(below photo) It's more difficult for a British actor to do a convincing

American accent than vice versa because of differences in the muscular action

that produces sounds. Britons who have succeeded include Leslie Howard

(above), shown with Vivien Leigh in _Gone With the Wind_, David Suchet (below

right), who plays a New Yorkerin the film _Sunday_, and Peter Sellers (below

left), shown in _Dr. Strangelove_.

(...) American actors bridle at one popular explanation: that British actors

are simply better trained than Americans. A less offensive variation on that

thesis is that in Britain, a country in which dialect connotes not only region

but also social class, actors had better be able to adjust their accents


The most satisfactory explanation for the accent gap, though, seems to

lie less in linguistics than in economics. "Follow the money," that watchword

of Watergate reporting, explains the influx of British actors into American


Tim Monich, one of the dialect coaches who help actors master the Queen's

English (an ADS online magazine would interview this guy--ed.), states this

thesis succinctly: "There is much more incentive for English actors,

Australian actors, Canadian actors, Irish actors to have a career in Hollywood

and to increase their casting, of course, to do American roles."

(...) Thus an American accent can be an asset even when an audience is not

going to be primarily American. As a teen-ager, the British actor Simon

Fenton crossed the ocean to play a United States Navy brat in _Matinee_, the

acclaimed 1993 comic film set in Key West, Fla., during the Cuban missile

crisis. That performance led to a tryout for a role in _Chris Cross_, a

Canadian television series that was distributed in both Britain and the United


The linguistic trade deficit between British and American actors may be

aggravated by a professional decision by American actors not to attempt

foreign accents. Monich said directors and studio heads are leery of having

Hollywood stars speak in a foreign accent, because this would dilute their

bankable images.

Opportunity, talent and training being equal, is it easier linguistically

for a British actor to play an American than vice versa? There is a

remarkable lack of unanimity on this question. And, indeed, several expert

insist that the American-to-British manoeuvre should actually be the easier


"For an American to do a standard British accent, it's a matter of

dropping sounds," (stage director Richard) Seyd said. "For an English actor

to do an American accent, it's a matter of adding sounds, and it makes the

accent more self-conscious when you add a sound, and more difficult when you

add a sound, than when you're leaving sounds out."

Fenton agrees that doing an American accent involves adding sounds to

what he sees as the "neutral" British accent. But, unlike Seyd, he sees the

British-to-American transformation as the easier one. "I think it's easier to

add than to take away," Fenton said.

But David Alan Stern, a dialect coach and the author of a series of

manuals and audiotapes called _Acting with an Accent_ (IS THIS GUY A MEMBER OF

THE AMERICAN DIALECT SOCIETY? Gotta ram these points home--ed.), said

Fenton's explanation would be "exactly the same perspective that an American

actor would feel" if called upon to do a British accent.

Stern said it is more difficult for a British actor to do a convincing

American accent than vice versa, not because of the addition or subtraction of

sounds but because of differences in the muscular action that produces sounds.

Standard British speech, he added, focuses its tone and resonance in the

front part of the mouth, whereas American speech centres (American speech

centres?-ed.) most of its muscle work in the middle part of the tongue. It is

easier, Stern said, for Americans to learn to use the front-face muscles that

produce a British resonance than for British speakers to make the muscles lazy

to seem American.

Is Stern's explanation the last word on the linguistic side of the accent

gap? No such luck. Suchet, who has been an acting teacher as well as an

actor, agrees with Stern that British English is more muscular, but he draws

an opposite conclusion. "In order to speak American, the first thing you have

to do is not move your mouth very much," he said. "Now, that's an easier

thing to do than to say to someone, 'Move your mouth more.'"

Any opinions?