Former First Lady Jackie Kennedy captivated people with her elegant style. It was her unusual, eloquent accent that really drew people in though. Professional linguists now have an explanation.
People with Southern and Northeastern accents often drop their ‘r’s’ when speaking. For example, the word ‘far’ comes out like ‘fah.’ It’s called non-rhoticity, or R-lessness, and is a trait of Jackie’s accent.
While people from Boston are known for this type of accent, Jackie’s is a little different because she took it to an extreme.
Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Reed College Kara Becker said:
“It’s when she has an ‘err’ sound that’s stressed in A word. So a word like ‘furniture,’ a lot of people who would drop their r’s wouldn’t drop them there, but she did. So you get ‘fuhnituh.'”
That’s not all there is to her accent, though.
The split short A system is prominent across the Northeast. It’s when people pronounce the ‘a’ in a word differently than you would expect. For example, pronouncing ‘bad’ like ‘bed.’
Jackie liked to round out the vowel ‘a’ in certain words. To do this, she threw her tongue to the back of her throat. The result is a soft, eloquent sound.
According to Becker:
“we [linguists] talk about vowels in where they’re produced in the mouth. Her tongue is in the back of her mouth when the word ‘back.'”
Anne Marie Olivo-Shaw, who has a PhD in linguistics, pointed out the way in which her ‘a’s’ sound like an ‘e,’ saying:
“kennedy says ‘kehnt’ instead of ‘can’t.'”
You can try the split short A yourself with a little tongue work. Start by pulling your tongue as far back into your mouth as it will go, then say a word like “apple.” It sounds softer than if the tongue were to stay up front.
Natalie Portman portrays this iconic woman in the movie Jackie, which linguists have praised her for. Mastering Jackie’s accent isn’t easy. Watch the trailer below to see her spot-on portrayal.
There’s a valid reason behind Jackie’s unique accent. She came from an upper-class family in the Northeast and grew up in the ’30s. Back then, private schools taught a mix of British English and American English. The end result is known as a “prestige” accent.
Members of the middle class tend to pronounce more syllables, whereas Jackie rounded out her words. She also liked to replace the word ‘you’ with ‘one,’ which made her appear sophisticated.
“one has to pay attention to one’s speech to use ‘one.’ the natural is to say ‘you.’ so that sort of grammar-that’s a careful use of proper grammar.”
A mix of location, social status and awareness helped Jackie speak in a way that made her stand out. A classy woman indeed.
Watch this video of Jackie giving a tour of the White House in her elegant, upper-crust accent.
Feature Image Source: Screenshot Via Twitter.