This month, we’re looking at the speaking style of Academy Award-winning actress and Katy native, Renée Zellweger, who’s talent for producing different accents on screen is reflected in the way a little Texan flair comes in and out of her normal speaking voice.
Lars Hinrichs, associate professor of English linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin, and director of the Texas English Project, says listening to differences between the accents of Zellweger’s European immigrant parents and her Texan peers in Katy gave her a sort of accent flexibility. That’s why she doesn’t have a particularly strong Texan accent.
However, Hinrichs says Zellweger’s accent still has evidence of her Texas heritage, especially in the way she says “I” and “OK” in this interview with Charlie Rose.
I count on myself. I know that I’m going to be OK. Since I was in school, I knew, you know, okay, I know how to take care of myself. I’ll always make money somehow.
Hinrichs says that come-and-go Texan accent showcases her modular linguistic repertoire, which means she can use different types of accents when speaking in different situations.
“It’s like going into your walk in closet and picking out what you’re going to wear, except it’s more flexible than your clothes because you can change it from minute to minute,” Hinrichs says. “The more you’re exposed to different influences, the less homogeneous your linguistic environment is, the more you’re likely to project different identities given contexts and situation you’re in.”
Here’s Zellweger accepting her Academy Award for her performance in “Cold Mountain”:
I have to thank the producers, cast and crew of “Cold Mountain.” I’ll never forget it, never, because of you, especially Jude and Nicole. Such a privilege to go to work everyday with you, such a privilege, my friends, thank you.
Compared to the previous clip, her Southern accent is still audible, but a lot more subdued due to the high-profile situation she is in, Hinrichs says. Whether or not this is done on purpose by anyone, he says, is unknowable to linguists.
“Let’s give her all the credit. She’s a highly trained actress,” Hinrichs says. “She probably is aware of everything she does.”
Written by Savana Dunning.