‘Outlaw King’ update or ‘About Intonation’

I promised to update my post about Chris Pine’s Scottish accent in Outlaw King once I watched the full film – so here we go 😀

First off, I need to say: Watching this movie made me ridiculously proud, happy, and grateful to live in this beautiful country. The scenery alone made this movie a joy to watch!
More importantly, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Pine’s Scottish accent turned out to be much better in the film than the trailer suggested. Two of the features I discussed in my previous post were much less of a problem in the film.

  1. Short Scottish vowels: In the movie, most of Pine’s vowels were actually quite short and crisp and only every now and then a lax vowel sneaked back in.
  2. GOOSE/FOOT fronting: Pine’s GOOSE/FOOT vowels were also mostly nice and fronted in the movie. In some smaller words especially, such as ‘do’ or ‘you’, Pine could have still fronted the vowel a bit more. But all in all they were quite good.

So two of the three aforementioned features were quite good in the movie. As a dialect coach and linguist, of course, I like to focus on details so please consider the following paragraphs as me splitting hairs.

Even though Pine’s Scottish accent turned out to be quite good, there was one feature that still wasn’t quite convincing. Arguably, this is also one of the most difficult linguistic features to grasp and successfully adopt when learning new accents: Intonation. In other words: the rhythm or musicality of an accent. Intonation differs a lot between accents but it is also speaker and situation-dependent. Emotions can also have a huge influence on a person’s intonation. For example, a speaker’s intonation might reflect the cheerfulness or seriousness of a situation and bounce between pitches more or less often, respectively. This can make intonation a rather abstract, variable feature and therefore harder to grasp than e.g. the pronunciation of certain vowels. This all being said, let’s take a closer look at Pine’s intonation in ‘Outlaw King’.

To find out what went wrong with Pine’s accent in ‘Outlaw King’ we first need to look at Pine’s native intonation, and then compare it to Scottish intonation.

In the above video you can hear how Pine’s native, i.e. American, intonation follows a stair-step pattern. This means that his intonation only moves between two or three pitches at the most and therefore there’s not a lot of bouncing happening. Mostly his intonation sounds like walking up a few steps and then walking down some more steps until he reaches the end of the sentence. As a result, most of Pine’s sentences end on a falling note.

Scottish accents, on the other hand, have a tendency to bounce a little more mid-speech and especially go up towards the end. This sometimes can make simple statements sound like questions. You can see this Scottish intonation in the following video of Colin Beattie, MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh.

In this video, Beattie speaks with a rather mellow Scottish accent, which is probably what Pine aimed for in order to be understood by a wide audience. Nevertheless, Beattie clearly ends most of his sentences on a rising note.

So to wrap this up: Kudos to Chris Pine for doing a great job at speaking with a Scottish accent in Outlaw King! Except for having some troubles with the Scottish intonation, his accent was convincing. (Quite a few Scottish people on Twitter thought so as well by the way 😀 )

Also, it’s important to remember: Accents are not easy to learn and Scottish accents especially can be rather difficult because people are not exposed to them as much as RP or General American accents, which feature in many movies and TV series.


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