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In the television show Frasier, the protagonist's brother, Niles Crane, is a haughty, snobby, obsessive-compulsive psychiatrist who frequently obsesses about knowing the right people and climbing the social ladder. Unique to him is his accent, which serves to complement his upper-class persona.

People often call the stereotypical "upper-class" accent the Mid- or Trans-Atlantic accent, but this certainly doesn't describe the accent in question. While the Transatlantic accent includes clipping "r" sounds in words like "butter," Niles's accent is abounding in rhoticity (c.f. 0:09 in the video: "I'm afraid what the humidity will do to these loafers. Does calfskin pucker?"). Furthermore, he doesn't have the Transatlantic accent's characteristic sharp "t" in words like "getting" and "better" (c.f. 2:25 and 3:31, respectively, where he substitutes "d" for "tt".).

I was wondering what this accent is called, the regions it existed (or exists) in, and the story behind its apparent rarity/decline, as I've never heard it before.

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    It sounds very much like a variation of the normal broadcast accent so often heard in the ’70s and ’80s (Jessica Fletcher springs to mind). There’s probably a name for it; I’ve always just called it ‘phoney tv-speak’. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 31 '18 at 21:32
  • If true, This might help youtube.com/watch?v=Gpv_IkO_ZBU I might add though that what really distinguishes them is word choice more than 'accent' . – Tom22 Jan 31 '18 at 21:51
  • @Tom22 Even controlling for diction, he has a distinct accent that's not Transatlantic. He doesn't have the characteristic sharp "t" in words like "getting" and "better" (c.f. 2:25 and 3:31, respectively), and he definitely doesn't clip his "r"s (i.e. his accent is very rhotic). – Tiwa Aina Jan 31 '18 at 22:12
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    I think you have it with unique to him. No one speaks any accent strictly according to its textbook definition. Some aspects are David Hyde Pierce's natural articulation and some represents an affectation for the character, who himself may be affecting an accent in-universe considering they didn't learn to speak that way from their father. – choster Jan 31 '18 at 22:28
  • @choster Sorry, I intended to upvote but apparently hit the wrong button. I'm making this comment just in case the flag I hit prompts a moderator to come here and investigate what I reported you for doing wrong. :( – Ross Murray Feb 1 '18 at 3:25
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Nile Crane's accent is an educated, refined Broadcast American, but quite distant from the so-called mid-Atlantic accent of Kate Hepburn or the early Bette Davis. An example roughly contemporary to Frazier would be the TV/radio host Dick Cavett. Crane adds a few features, however: a slight overarticulation of stops, an unflapped medial t here and there, a full pronunciation of words like conditionally. It isn't full-on stage diction, but just enough to convey a certain punctiliousness.

The permanent pout along with other characteristics of his speech is affect, not accent, and one could argue that the overly careful diction is more affect than accent as well.

  • So it's a learned affectation as opposed to simulation of an accent? A few questions: what do you mean by "overarticulation of stops," "full pronunciation of 'conditionally'," and "pout"? (With regard to the second phrase, how can "conditionally" be pronounced incompletely?) – Tiwa Aina Jan 31 '18 at 22:30
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    1) Not learned, put on, like a costume. 2) stops, aka, plosive consonants b,d,g,p,t,k. Niles' can be quite crisp 3) Most speakers would reduce the -al in conditionally; Niles doesn't. 4) with pout I'm referencing his constant state of being offended rather than a facial expression. – KarlG Jan 31 '18 at 23:07
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I believe it's called Standard American English.

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    But the Mid-Atlantic accent is marked by a lack of rhoticity, not an emphasis on it. – Tiwa Aina Jan 31 '18 at 21:35
  • I agree with @TiwaAina the Mid-Atlantic accent would be far bettter called "generic" than upper-crust American. It certainly would not be the way the characters spoke on the TV show referenced.... although to be fair the OP question has some drawbacks tieng "accent" to word choice ... but even if dwelling on accent alone it would not be mid atlantic that they used – Tom22 Jan 31 '18 at 21:39
  • I'm sorry I voted this down, but after going to confirm I believe that I was wrong, or at least .. not strictly right if this video is correct youtube.com/watch?v=Gpv_IkO_ZBU The system will not allow me to change my vote without your edit – Tom22 Jan 31 '18 at 21:48
  • I apologize: I misread your question. Frasier Crane undeniably speaks with a Mid-Atlantic accent, but his brother, Niles, does not. (From a character perspective, this could be attributed to Frasier's time spent in Boston.) I believe Niles's accent is more Standard American English. – John W. Thornton Jan 31 '18 at 21:50
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    @JohnW.Thornton - I agree that they speak distinctly different accent, but Niles is far from "standard American". Likely it's simply an exaggerated theatrical accent. – Hot Licks Jan 31 '18 at 22:17

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