Tony Curran’s accent in ‘Outlaw King’

screenshot (150)I talked a lot about Chris Pine’s accent in ‘Outlaw King’ because it is always interesting to see how well non-Scottish actors adopt Scottish accent. Actors speaking in their own country’s accent rarely get much attention but they are worth talking about as well.

While watching Outlaw King, it quickly became clear that Chris Pine succeeded in acquiring a Scottish accent. A few vowels here and there could have been more crisp or fronted and his intonation could have been improved, but other than that he did a great job. Throughout the movie, my attention therefore was drawn to another actor: Tony Curran as Aonghus Óg Mac Domhnaill aka Angus Macdonald.

Tony Curran was born in Glasgow so I was surprised when he didn’t speak with a Weegie accent. The following two features particularly stuck out as different from Curran’s native Glaswegian accent:

  1. Many English accents have two types of L: a light L and a dark one. Try and say the words ‘live’ and ‘fill’ out loud. Can you feel how your tongue touches the front of your palate in ‘live’ but that there’s more action in the back of your mouth for the L in ‘fill‘? The L in ‘live’ sounds quite light while the L in ‘fill’ has a darker quality to it. In Outlaw King, Curran pronounces syllable-final Ls in words like ‘kill’ with a light L when most English accents usually use a dark L in the same position. Some Scottish speakers (Glaswegians for example) even tend to vocalise syllable-final Ls. This means that those speakers use a vowel instead of an L. For these L-vocalising speakers the word milk sounds more like mi-ook ([mɪʊk] instead of [mɪlk]). Light Ls in syllable-final position like Curran used them as Angus Macdonald are usually found in Irish accents or for non-native English speakers.
  2. Interestingly, Curran’s accent as Angus Macdonald also lacked GOOSE/FOOT fronting. You might remember this feature from my previous posts about Pine’s Scottish accent. There I mentioned that the GOOSE and FOOT vowels are usually fronted in Scottish accents, i.e. pronounced with the tongue closer to the front of the mouth. Irish accents are known for pronouncing those vowels quite far in the back. You can hear Curran do that when he says ‘look’ or ‘lose’.

Both these features are commonly associated with Irish accents. Now, you might wonder why a Scottish character like Angus Macdonald should use Irish features. To solve this riddle we need to know more about Curran’s character in Outlaw King: Aonghus Óg Mac Domhnaill was from Islay, the southernmost Island of the Hebrides and as such very close to Ireland. Islay was traditionally Gaelic speaking and it can be assumed that Angus must have been a Gaelic speaker as well. In the movie you can even hear Angus’ people singing songs in Gaelic when Robert the Bruce and his companions are on Islay. Gaelic is one of the few remaining Celtic languages and closely related to Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge) spoken in Ireland. Gaeilge had an immense influence on the way the Irish people spoke English and – considering how closely related Irish Gaeilge and Scottish Gaelic are – it makes sense that Scottish Gaelic had a similar influence on Scottish English speakers such as Angus Macdonald.

Like I mentioned before: foreigners attempting a Scottish accent usually receive more attention than actual Scotsmen in the same movie. People naturally also focus on the main character’s accent more than supporting characters’. This doesn’t mean that supporting roles aren’t any more important or that supporting actors don’t have to put in as much work. As a Scotsman, Curran could have probably used his own, Weegie accent for this role and nobody would have complained. By deciding to use a more accurate accent, Curran indirectly tells us more about the character he’s playing and he therefore adds another layer to his acting. Curran clearly showed that accurate accents are important for all characters – no matter how minor or major they are. The fact that Curran took that extra step and spoke like an actual Gaelic speaker from Islay shows great dedication to the role and adds to the audience’s enjoyment of the movie.

‘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.

 

‘Outlaw King’ and Chris Pine’s Scottish Accent

Living in Scotland and being surrounded by the beautiful sounds of Scottish accents has tuned my ears to the many varieties spoken here. It also made me rather critical of foreign actors’ accents who are playing Scottish characters.

        The most recent attempt is Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce in Netflix’s upcoming movie Outlaw King. First off: As a resident of Scotland, I am very excited for this movie and can’t wait to watch it when it comes out. As a dialect coach, I watched the trailer with a more critical ear. You can see that Pine worked on his accent (with Dialect Coach Eleanor Boyce) and his speech certainly has a Scottish flair. Bear in mind that due to trailer’s shortness there wasn’t much data for me to analyze Pine’s accent completely- so how good his Scottish accent really is remains to be judged after watching the full film. This being said, I did notice a few features that could’ve been improved to make Pine sound more….Robert the Bruce.

  1. Scottish vowels tend to be quite short and crisp – unless they are at the end of a word, or followed by an R or a voiced fricative, such as the [v] in flavour or the [ð] in bother*. Most of Pine’s vowels in the trailer are a tad too lax and too long. American accents are known for their long, lax vowels; and Pine doesn’t quite drop them in certain words. He nails the short vowel in the word family but the vowels in land, or must are just a wee bit too long still.
  2. Intonation is another important aspect of Scottish accents and differs heavily from Pine’s native American accent. American intonation tends to drop towards the end of a sentence while Scottish accents are more bouncy in general and usually don’t end on a falling note. Pine’s intonation in Outlaw King sounds more American than Scottish but it’s hard to judge intonation based only on a handful of sentences.
  3. These two aspects are very subtle differences and might not be susceptible to the average person’s ears. This last feature, however, immediately outs Pine as a non-native Scottish English speaker. It concerns the vowels that belong to the GOOSE and FOOT lexical sets, i.e. all the words that have the same vowel as the words goose and foot. In Scottish accents those two vowels are identical and – more importantly – they’re usually fronted. This means that those two vowels are pronounced further in the front of the mouth and therefore sound more like the vowel in the French word tu.

As a comparison here are these two vowels in standard RP, pronounced in the back:

and this is what the same vowels sound like when they are fronted:

These vowels crop up EVERYWHERE and they’re usually tiny words that don’t seem super important, like you, or do, which makes consistency a challenge. These are exactly the words that Pine trips over: his GOOSE/FOOT vowels in the trailer are almost all pronounced in the back instead of being fronted, as for example when he says “Do whatever you must” or “I do not care”. The Devil is in the details.

These are the problem areas I noticed while watching the trailer. But Pine also adopted some Scottish features perfectly and I would like to mention one in particular. The way Pine pronounces his Rs in the trailer is spot on. Rs can vary immensely from one accent to another and Scottish accents are known for tapped and sometimes even trilled Rs (resembling Spanish or Italian Rs). American Rs, on the other hand, are much more relaxed and as a result sound rounder, or softer. Pine successfully drops his American Rs and pronounces them as a true Scottish outlaw king would.

In summary, I could see a few issues with Pine’s accent in the trailer but other features were spot on. I’m looking forward to updating my analysis of Pine’s Scottish accent once I’ve seen the film!

I’ll keep you posted 😀

 

*This phenomenon is called the Scottish Vowel Length Rule for those who’d like to know more 😉

 

One of the four pillars of accent work is People aka Cultural Context. This refers to the fact that a person’s accent and voice quality is heavily dependent on their cultural, social and socio-economic background. For example, an upper-class person doesn’t sound like a person from a lower socio-economic background. Likewise,  a teenager’s accent is very different from a 50-year old person’s even if they are from the same town. This pillar of accent work is crucial for acting. To deliver an accurate performance you need to know your character’s cultural background because it is indirectly reflected in their speech.

In the above video you can see a great example of this: Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in I, Tonya. In that movie, Robbie plays her character at different stages of her life and she perfectly reflects the age difference with her voice. The older a person is, the stiffer their vocal cords become, and therefore a person’s voice sounds deeper as they grow older. Margot Robbie nails that aspect in I, Tonya – besides also doing a spot-on Northwestern accent in general.

[FYI: The above video is a delight to watch in its entirety. Erik Singer offers wonderful analyses of soooo many movie accents! Check out all his videos if you’re looking for good (and not-so-good) examples of accents in movies.]

Being coached on your native accent

A person’s accent is not rigid – it changes a lot throughout your lifetime. It’s not just your vocabulary that expands the older and wiser you get. The way you pronounce words, your stress pattern and even your intonation can change drastically. It all depends on what you experience, where you spend most of your time, and who you talk to. That change is most apparent in people who moved away and now live in another country than the one they grew up in. As silly as it sounds at first – this means you can lose your native accent.

It’s good to see that some actors are aware of the flexibility of their accent and decide to work with a dialect coach to regain their native accent – like Gary Oldman did when he had to do an English accent after having lived in the States for a long time. Like Gary Oldman says in the interview above, a speaker might not even notice that some foreign features slipped their way into their speech. Sometimes tiny nuances can make or break an accent and a dialect coach can point out those small features that the actors themselves aren’t aware of.