Franklin D. Roosevelt and the American Theatre Standard: The low vowels

Mateusz Urban


Franklin D. Roosevelt’s accent is often used as an illustration of the elite pronunciation heard among the north-eastern US upper classes until roughly the mid 20th century. Known under several names and often considered a mixture of British and American features, this variety is frequently identified with the American Theatre Standard, a norm popularized by acting schools in the early 20th century. Working on the assumption that Roosevelt is an exemplar of the north-eastern standard, the aim of the current study is a preliminary acoustic exploration of his accent with the aim of assessing the plausibility of such comparisons, focusing on the dress, trap, bath, start and lot vowels. Density plots created based on F1 and F2 measured in eight radio speeches were used to examine the relative position of these vowels in the vowel space. Linear mixed-effects regression was then used to model F1 and F2 in selected pairs of vowels to determine whether the differences along the two formant dimensions are significant. The results confirm a conclusion reached in an earlier auditory study (Brandenburg, Braden 1952) according to which Roosevelt’s bath was variable between [æ] and a lower and retracted [a], a vowel quality found in Eastern New England and in American Theatre Pronunciation. At the same time, a merged start/lot vowel in Roosevelt’s speech makes it unjustified to fully identify his accent with the latter variety.

Słowa kluczowe: acoustic phonetics, north-eastern American standard, American Theatre Standard, Franklin D. Roosevelt

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