From scene one, Netflix’s original series House of Cards has been over-the-top. That’s part of its charm. Like its main character, his accent, the city of Washington DC, and American politics in general, it’s a bit absurd. And that’s ok.
Over the past few years, House of Cards has continued to entertain – even with its tendency to turn to camp. One of the big reasons it remains essential viewing is Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood, a truly unique and wonderful character. And one of the things that makes him so unique and wonderful is that accent.
That accent. What the hell is it?
Vox attempts to explain why Spacey’s southern drawl might sound a bit off at times. According to linguists, Spacey’s accent isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s just outdated. Pre-WWII, in fact.
There are a couple of distinct features that make Underwood “sound” Southern to some people. One of these traits is his “R-lessness,” which an expert would call his “non-rhoticity.”
“This is when r at the ends of syllables is pronounced like a vowel or deleted, so that car and cars sound like cah and cahs,” Becker explained to me. You can hear it in the way Underwood says words like “uninformed” and “careless.”
This is one of the features that Thomas considers a stereotypical Southern feature. It sounds the way people think Southerners sound, but it’s actually a feature that is disappearing in Southern speech.
Also think about when Frank Underwood says the word “whip”. Is it in your head? He says “hwip”, right? He inverts the first two consonants. This is another example of Spacey taking a page from how southerners talked decades ago – but not necessarily how they talk today.
Of course, “southerner” is a very broad description that encompasses thousands of dialects. But there are certain vocal patterns that are consistent with what a regular TV audience considers “southern”. Spacey goes over-the-top, but it’s always entertaining.
Plus, you just love listening to him talk. And in the end, that’s all that matters.
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