How Kathy Bates Practices Her Baltimore Accent

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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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  1. She needs a little more practice. Specifically, “Son of a bitch”. It’s not “some-n-a-bitch”, it’s “sumbitch”. There’s probably not a soundbite of Barbara Mikulski saying THAT!

  2. Lesson 1. Pronunciation Drill – Listen and Repeat:
    Ball Tee More =The City of Baltimore, more commonly known as Balmer, or Baw Duh More
    Merlin = Our State
    Balmorese = What we’re speaking here in our State of Merlin
    Allanic = an ocean
    Am B’Lance = Takes sick/hurt people to the hospital
    Arn = What you do to wrinkled clothes
    Arnjuice = from the sunshine tree
    Arouwn in all directions = norf, souf, ees, and wess
    Aspern = what you take for headaches
    Bald = some people like their eggs this way
    Bawler = what the plumber calls your furnace
    Beeno = a famous railroad
    Beero = Bureau (as in FBI or dresser)
    Brawl = Broil
    Bulled Egg = An egg cooked in water
    Calf Lick = bleevers are Protestant, Jewish, and …
    Canny = a state gubmit division, such as Anne Arundel or Prince George’s
    Chest Peak = A large nearby body of water
    Chimley = Structure that Santa comes down
    Colleyflare = A white vegetable
    Crick = Where the warter runs
    Downey Owe Shin = Summertime vacation destination of Ocean City, also known as Ayshun City (“Down to the ocean”)
    Droodle Pork = Druid Hill Park
    Drooslem = city in the Holy Land
    Duddeney = yes, he does, duddeney?
    Elfin = Large pachyderm at zoo
    Err = a time measurement of 60 minutes
    Excape = Escape
    Faren Gins = Red trucks that put out fires
    Far place = requires wood
    Fard = area between the eyes and the hairline
    Farmin = the people who fight fars
    Flares = Tulips, roses, daisies, etc…
    Ford = opposite of backward
    Hairacane = Hurricane
    Hi Hon! = How we always say “hello”
    Holluntown = Highland Town
    Idnit = it is, idnit?
    Ignernt = ignorant
    Klumya = Rouse’s new city (Columbia)
    Meer = what you look at in the morning
    Munlaw = married to your fodlaw
    Nap Lis = State of Merlin capital, Annapolis
    Norf Abnew = North Avenue
    Numb = a conjunctive 1st person pronoun: “Aw’ve bin workin six errors numb tarred.”
    Ole Bay = What our crabs taste like
    Oreos = Not a cookie, but our baseball team
    Paramore = Power mower
    Payment = That strip of cement that you walk on
    Pitcher = Picture
    Plooshin = let’s get it out of the Chest Peak
    PohLeese = Those guys in uniform that git ya when you’re speeding
    Sarn = what a pleece car or Farn Gin makes noise with
    Sem Lem = Seven Eleven Convenience Store
    Share = Hot water that cleans you in the morning
    Slong = “good-bye”
    Sore = drainage under the street
    Spearmint = experiment
    Star Phone = Styrofoam
    Tarnado = Tornado
    Tarred = What happens when you work too hard
    Telly Phone = Telephone
    Warsh = What we do with dirty clothes
    Warshnin = our nation’s capital
    Warter = The clear liquid we drink, also known as Wooter
    Winders = Those glass things that we look out of
    Wooder = what you wrench your hands with
    Yerp = Europe
    Youz = you all
    Zinc = where you wrench your hands or warsh your dishes
    Lesson 2. Oral Exercises
    Listen and Repeat:
    Merlin: Ah herd sarns at sod the hass a bat hunnert toms lass not. Itsem Ann Earl Canny farn gins.
    Standard: I heard sirens outside the house about a hundred times last night. It’s those Anne Arundel County fire engines.
    Merlin: She raider boskle from Droodle Pork to dantan Ballmer wither oz clazed.
    Standard: She rode her bicycle from Druid Hill Park to downtown Baltimore with her eyes closed.
    Merlin: The Hard Canny Toms sayz the canny cancel pace pained bon ambalances.
    Standard: The Howard County Times says the County Council postponed buying ambulances.
    Merlin: Pitcher bane seat owen. Weer goon danny ayshun.
    Standard: Put your bathing suit on. We’re going down to the ocean.
    Merlin: Ah sawn ambalance good dan Rosters Tan Raid a bat a huunert molls an air, nit was porn dan rain.
    Standard: I saw an ambulance going down Reisterstown Road about a hundred miles an hour, and it was pouring down rain.
    Merlin: It spaced a snaid mora. Better pitcher snay tars owen.
    Standard: It’s supposed to snow tomorrow. Better put your snow tires on.

  3. Great piece. Thanks. I’m a native Baltimorean living currently in Denver. Despite 16 years in the accent-less Midwest, I still speak in Bawlmerese. My older aunts and my Dad “fronted their back vowels” even more heavily than I. Thanks for explaining the linguistics behind our cute, sometimes annoying way of talking. When one comes by it naturally, one doesn’t consider the why’s and wherefore’s.

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