Maybe you love it or maybe you hate it or maybe you just have a hard time understanding it, but at least we can all agree by now that the accent Kathy Bates is going for on American Horror Story is, indeed, Bawlmerese.
As a non-native, I have a complicated relationship with the Baltimore accent (or dialect, if you care to be precise). I think it sounds amazing, and I love discovering it in unexpected places (like this guy running for office in Montana — can’t fool me, bud, I know where you’re from!). But I can’t imitate it no matter how hard I try. My friends who are born-and-raised Baltimoreans don’t tend to speak like a little old lady from Highlandtown, either, but they can switch the accent on when they want to. Whenever I try, though, I sound like some sort of terrible Cockney-Bostonian or something. Trust me, it’s not pretty.
So when a linguist revealed that one of the main features of the Baltimore accent is a characteristic called “fronting back vowels,” I got excited. Perhaps a good Baltimore accent was really just about vowel placement.
Well, it turns out to be more than that–but maybe if I practice the same way Kathy Bates does, I’ll be able to get it down. According to an interview she did with Buzzfeed, Bates didn’t work with an accent coach for her AHS role; instead, she listened to a lot of Barbara Mikulski interviews and studied this unofficial Bawlamarese website. To get in character, Bates says she sings “The Star-Spangled Banner” with a Baltimore accent pretty much every morning.
I’m not sure I’m willing to go that far, but I appreciate that Bates finds the Baltimore accent tricky, too: “I talk in my Baltimore accent even when I’m off set,” she told Buzzfeed. “It’s such a tough accent that I feel like if I don’t, I won’t get it back.”
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