What Happened to the Mid-Atlantic Accent?

Often referred to as a “strange” or “odd-sounding” way of speaking, many people seem to be unaware of the Mid-Atlantic accent. However, this classic accent played a large role in early American Cinema, and its use goes much further. In fact, the Mid-Atlantic accent, also known as Transatlantic, dates back to the early 1900s primarily acquired by the American upper class and American actors.

So, what makes this accent stand out from the rest? The Mid-Atlantic accent is a cultivated way of speaking. In other words, the accent didn’t derive from a specific location, nor did it arise naturally. It features a conscious blend of American and British English and favors neither. What, then, caused the accent to gain popularity and become so widely used? Take a look with Creative Media Design in New York City.

Origins of the Mid-Atlantic Accent

While the Mid-Atlantic accent didn’t arise naturally, it was cultivated into American Cinema, as well as the American upper class. In terms of cinema, many acting schools in the early 1900s taught the accent as a standard, which is why countless films, newsreels, and radio shows up to the 1940s feature voices with the Transatlantic accent. Because the accent has since faded and decreased in popularity, we often see the question, “Why do people in old movies talk weird?”

However, “weird” doesn’t do the accent any justice, as it was actually used by elite cultures like the aforementioned upper class and political figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Similarly, many other figures outside the entertainment industry were known for using the Mid-Atlantic accent, including William McKinley, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Carrie Fisher. Though use of the accent dropped significantly after World War II, some well-known figures have adapted it in more recent years, such as musician and producer Mark Ronson.

Mid-Atlantic Accent: Well-Known Voices

While we’ve mentioned several big names who’ve adopted the Mid-Atlantic accent, there are several actors who will be remembered for their perfect practice of the accent. The first name that comes to mind is Katherine Hepburn, of course. Though consciously adopted, Hepburn’s accent was loved by many, as were the accents of the familiar faces to follow. Check out our list of well-known voices, both old and new, who perfected this elegant accent:

  • Kate Winslet (in Titanic)

  • Mark Hamill (as the Joker)

  • Harry Shearer (various characters in The Simpsons)

  • Brad Friedel

  • Orson Welles

  • Elizabeth Taylor

Still Popular Today

Adopted by the British and Americans, the Mid-Atlantic accent was cultivated to be understood by both, which may have impacted its initial popularity in cinema. Whichever the case, the accent is still used to some degree today and is seemingly growing in popularity, as it’s again becoming sought after for various media productions.

If you’re interested in finding a Mid-Atlantic accent for your next production, check out Creative Media Design’s voice talent! On our site, you can sample a variety of accents. Plus, you can always call us at 212-213-9420 for assistance in choosing the right talent.