On June 5th 1995, John Baur and Mark Summers were playing a friendly game of racquetball. For some mysterious reason, they started encouraging each other in pirate slang. I’ll let them tell the story:
“…whoever let out the first “Arrr!” started something. One thing led to another. “That be a fine cannonade,” one said, to be followed by “Now watch as I fire a broadside straight into your yardarm!” and other such helpful phrases.
By the time our hour on the court was over, we realized that lapsing into pirate lingo had made the game more fun and the time pass more quickly. We decided then and there that what the world really needed was a new national holiday.”
With Halloween upon us, our streets will soon be filled with young Jack Sparrow lookalikes, some of them more Arrr-ticulate than others.
As a voice-over arrr-tist, I absolutely love October 31st. What other holiday gives me the perfect excuse to revisit my crypt of creepy vowels and consonants, and resurrect them for the promotion of a local thrill ride or a scary costume emporium?
At this magical time, I usually take out my secret weapon: the alveolar trill, also known as “rolling R”. Doesn’t everything sound more sinister and spooky with a rolling R? Just think of the prince of darkness himself: Count Drrrracula from Trrrrransylvania.
You should be warned: the Dutch have a distinct advantage in the rolling R department. We roll ’em out all the time. Words like Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Strikwerda… they wouldn’t be the same without a tongue-twisting alveolar trill. Netherlanders really appreciate their R’s.
The English on the other hand, consistently snub this consonant. What’s even worse, they leave half of them unspoken. Ask any Englishman to properly pronounce the following sentence:
“Not a word about the bird was ever heard until it occurred.”
Tell me, where did the R’s go? Now, if you did hear any rolling R’s in there, you were probably listening to a Scotsman.
However, there’s one important exception. If a classically trained English speaking actor wishes to add a dash of extra creepiness to his delivery, he will bring back the rolling R. My favorite example: the inimitable Cyril Ritchard in his role of Captain Hook.
Even though most of us will never be asked to play Captain Hook, I believe the alveolar trill should be on the tip of the tongue of every professional voice-over actor. Many of our clients are paying us for our ability to correctly reproduce the names of people and places, foreign and domestic, no matter what our mother tongue may be.
Just as opera singers are expected to master Italian, French and German pronunciation, students in my fictitious voice-over academy would have to take languages classes as part of their verbal acrobatics curriculum. As one of my imaginary students, you’d only be allowed to graduate if you could say the following Spanish sentences correctly, three times in a row:
“Erre con erre cigarro. Erre con erre barril.
Rápido corren los carros sobre los rieles del ferrocarril”
THE MISSING LINK
There are other strange things going on with the R in the English language. As we’ve seen, the R is often written out but not pronounced, as in the sentence “Never say never” (spoken in the Queen’s English, of course). But if that same word precedes a word that begins with a vowel, the same R is pronounced, as in “Never say never again”. This is called a linking R.
On top of that, some English speakers add an R that doesn’t even appear on the page, as in the word “idea-r” or the sentence “President Obama-r-and his Danish counterpart”. Linguists call this phenomenon an “intrusive R”.
And then, there is this famous R…
Peter Cook as the “Impwessive Clewgyman” in Wob Weiners “The Pwincess Bwide”.
As non-native English speakers (such as myself), what-R-we to make of all this? Is there any logic to your language? Is there any welation between your spelling and your pwonunciation?
So far, I have only touched upon the rolling-R and the Bwitish R. What about it’s American counterpart? Well, as you know, the ever so silent British R is often clearly pronounced in the States. Just as the rolling R might be a challenge for Americans, some Europeans have a hard time pronouncing a simple word like ‘hamburger’. See for yourself.
AHOY ME HARTEYS
There’s only day in the year that’s absolutely ideal for practicing your R’s. It’s September 19th, the International Talk Like A Pirate Day! And if you don’t believe me, ask John Baur and Mark Summers. With the help of some friends, they turned a goofy idea into a global phenomenon, with a newsletter called The Poopdeck. It’s arrrguably one of the silliest idears I’ve heard in a long time, and that’s exactly why I love it.
Now, if you will excuse me… I have to get back to my ship. Arrrrr!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS voice-over talents will love this short pirate video, written by & starring Jonathan Kydd. It’s called “Aharrr”.
Rebecca Michaels says
Thrrrrrrrrrrilling and fun! Thank you Paul for this fun one!! I learned how to trill my R’s in Spanish class during High School, but had already known how…. Many folks who liked to impress me would use my name to practice trilling… RRRRRRRRRebecca! Since I’ve been a little girrrrrrrrrrrl.
Steve Spector says
I learned in high school Spanish class as well. My only ‘D’ by the way. I haven’t told anyone about that until now. Goodness, now that’s a relief.
Paul Strikwerda says
Hi Steve and Rrrrebecca, thanks for yourrrr input. Not everyone has time to go back to Spanish classes, so if you’d like to take an R-rolling shortcut, try these tips:
How to Roll you R’s
Rick Lance says
Verrrrrry entertaining, Paul!
But what? No controversy? Just observation and elaboration?
Geeeeezzz! What gives?
I never learned the “R” roll very well in HS Spanish class.
I waited until the stakes were much higher. I auditioned for the part of Col. Thomas McKean, a rowdy Scotsman in the musical play 1776. They liked my take on him but the only way they’d let me into the play was if I could speak English with a Scottish accent. So I learned that from a tape made for me by John Hancock. Who was actually, a Scotsman playing the British part of John.
Anyway, I surprised everyone when two weeks later at the first rehearsal I spoke my lines with the accent.
To this day, I still can do a pretty convincing Scottish accent.
And a pretty fair pirate as well… Arrrs included!
Paul Strikwerda says
You’d have to demo your accent at Faffcon, Rick. And don’t forget your kilt!
Ted Mcaleer says
Aye aye, Captian Bligh…We would mutter under our breaths as we got some dirty dirty job from “The Chief” when I was in the Navy. I will have to brush up my pirate! Thanks for the great article!