Mozzareller sticks

« previous post | next post »

Via The Economist's Johnson blog comes this entertaining video of the young stars of the "Harry Potter" movie franchise trying to sound American.

As pointed out by the Johnson blogger (Lane Greene), Rupert Grint goes overboard with his pronunciation of "mozzarella sticks" as "mozzareller sticks." That's a hyper-rhotic extension of "intrusive /r/," since the inserted /r/ is followed by a consonant rather than a vowel as in "law[r] and order" or "draw[r]ing." This over-/r/-fulness, what Ben Sadock calls "intrusive intrusive /r/," is frequently heard when non-rhotics try to go rhotic. For more on hyper-rhoticity and how it plagues British attempts at imitating American accents, see my Language Log post from 2008, "Botswaner and Louisianer."


  1. Lazar said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 12:03 pm

    OT, but I mistakenly thought that Language Log was still down as recently as today (when I finally learned otherwise) because the URL I had bookmarked,, kept returning nothing. Will we ever get this address back?

  2. JMM said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

    I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that non-rhotic speakers believe that rhotics are also R-adders while it is clear to me (as a rhotic speaker) that they're the ones that put Rs where they don't belong (I do know that Ohio cows say, "Mooer", but that's the only R intrusive rhotic dialect I know of.)

    What's also surprising is that so many Brits insist that the R dropping has always been a feature of RP, though it is relatively new, at least in the south and east.

  3. Peter Taylor said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

    Would a native Freedom Language speaker be willing to comment for the sake of we Brits on how well they did?

  4. John Cowan said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

    The oddball stress of "mozzarella STICKS" from the fourth actor (I don't know who's who, thanks to prosopagnosia) jumped out at me.

  5. rpsms said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

    @ P Taylor I think most of the specimens were too short to rate. For the mozz sticks, Malfoy (IIRC) did the best but not perfect. However his "Justin Beiber booya" was probably the best of all the examples.

  6. Spell Me Jeff said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

    Tom Felton speaks more American than I do. Grint comes close. Emma Watson could learn a few things from her friends at Brown.

  7. Kylopod said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

    "Mozereller" is the type of thing my mother (raised in New Jersey and New York) might have said when she was younger. I don't know if she did with that word, specifically, but I definitely remember her adding r's to words that end in an open vowel.

  8. GeorgeW said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

    Which regional accent do Brits typically associate with Americans? I would guess it is the 'unaccented' Midwest, broadcast-news accent.

    Also, I think the best way to do an accent is pick out a distinctive feature and overgeneralize it. This works for all but speakers of the dialect/accent.

  9. Aaron Binns said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

    I saw the latest HP movie last night and was rather surprised when the main characters wished each other a "merry" Christmas rather than a "happy" one. Part of their Americanization program?

  10. Chris said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 3:49 pm

    My new favorite phrase: It's the freedom language.

  11. James said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

    I thought they all did pretty well; I agree with resms and Spell Me Jeff that Felton really nailed it.

  12. Jim said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 4:46 pm

    "What's also surprising is that so many Brits insist that the R dropping has always been a feature of RP, though it is relatively new, at least in the south and east."

    What started it? Was it spontaneous or due to an influence from France a la dropped h's? Denmark?

  13. Connor said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 4:47 pm

    As another example, Walter Lewin, the MIT physics professor with a popular series of YouTube videos, pronounces "ideas" as "idears". You can hear one example around 14:15 of this video.

    Lewin is a native speaker of Dutch, not English, but I believe that most English as a foreign language classes teach Received Pronunciation as the standard dialect. It could be that the same process (acquisition of RP –> hypercorrective "Americanization) is at work.

  14. Ben C said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

    @Jim: Actuation is always a tricky problem to solve. I don't think you'll get a straight answer to that question. It seems to me that language change works on the same mechanism as internet memes (which would make sense), except that 90% of them don't come from 4chan.

  15. Peter Taylor said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

    Thanks, rpsms, Spell Me Jeff, and James.

    @GeorgeW, I think you need to look at the predominant accent in Hollywood films and major TV series rather than broadcast news, so I would guess that it's Californian. But I haven't spoken to enough people I know to be Californian to be sure that it's the same accent.

  16. Chris said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 6:38 pm

    It's prosody that really gets them, right? They're all quite good at imitating accent when words and phrases are in isolation. But it's the sentence where they order mozzarella sticks that trips them up. Damned prosody!

  17. Nicholas Waller said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 8:41 pm

    @ Aaron Binns & your surprise at Brits wishing people 'a "merry" Christmas rather than a "happy" one.'

    A very common British phrase is "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year", apparently on the first ever commercial Christmas card, produced by Englishman Henry Cole in 1843 acc. to Wikipedia. ("A Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year" doesn't work.)

    John Lennon's "Merry Christmas (War is Over)" and Slade's "Merry Christmas Everybody" are a couple of 1970s-era songs still played to excess every Xmas over here. "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Christmas" are equally UKian, at least to my mind.

    It's only when Brits say "Happy Holidays" that we begin to sound Americanified.

  18. JMM said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 9:38 pm

    @Jim, I've always blamed the personnel department at the BBC. They seem to have always had a taste for public school accents among their news readers, even when that accent was fodder for jokes on other programs (at least to the extent that prestige accents are fodder for jokes.), as it seemed to have beeneven thirty years ago. However, I suspect Ben C. is right, and the answer is more complicated than that.

    What has always puzzled me more is how the 'public school accent' became a non-rhotic one, while most of the most famous public schools are in the mid-lands and the older non-rhotic dialects are further north and disparaged when those schools were becoming prominent. Was there a time when educated, non-rhotic speaker could find no job school master? That seems unlikely to me.

  19. The Ridger said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 10:39 pm

    Kylopod and Conner: The objection is to the intrusive R before a *consonant*. Both "mozareller" and "idears" is very American (for some dialects) if the next word starts with a vowel…

  20. Morten Jonsson said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 11:31 pm

    @ Nicholas Waller

    Actually, John Lennon's song is "Happy Christmas," which sounds odd to American ears.

  21. Hannah Pazderka said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 12:15 am

    @ Chris: "Damned prosody!" LOL!!!

  22. Clarissa at Talk to the Clouds said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 1:02 am

    Tom Felton's full "mozzarella sticks" request sounded more Scottish than American to me…

  23. Aaron Binns said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 1:12 am

    If I remember correctly, in earlier Harry Potter films, they said "happy Christmas" to each other when making their end of term farewells.

  24. Guadalupe R. Brubaker said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 5:17 am

    He did speak in american accent?

  25. Pflaumbaum said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 7:08 am


    What's also surprising is that so many Brits insist that the R dropping has always been a feature of RP, though it is relatively new, at least in the south and east.

    Do you mean r dropping or intrusive r?

    RP has certainly always dropped its r's in the sense of being non-rhotic. It's true some southern English accents are rhotic, especially rural ones, in places like Somerset, Cornwall and East Anglia. But not RP.

    If you mean intrusive r, you're right, RP didn't used to do it. In fact last night I was having dinner with someone only in his mid-forties whose RP doesn't have it much at all – he says Law and order with a [w], and "Rosanna Arquette" with a glottal stop, where I have [r] in both cases.

    I noticed though that the other r-intruders apart from me didn't have [r] in Laura Ashley… they seemed to elide the final /a/. Maybe the preceding [r] in Laura affects it?

  26. Nicholas Waller said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

    @ Morten Jonsson – Actually, John Lennon's song is "Happy Christmas,"

    Oops! I went googling for Lennon and Merry Christmas, which is what I remembered, and of course I found it without checking for Happy Christmas as well.

  27. Joshua said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 9:16 pm

    While John Lennon's song is titled "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)", it includes both the phrases "Happy Christmas" (sung by John) and "Merry Christmas" (sung by Yoko Ono).

  28. BlueBottle said,

    November 21, 2010 @ 7:43 am

    It seems to me that the difference between Britons and Americans in Christmas salutations isn't that we Brits don't use "Merry" (because we do, and always have) but that we have the option of using "Happy" instead, if we wish – which Americans apparently don't.

  29. John said,

    November 22, 2010 @ 8:16 am

    @Aaron Binns

    The norm is 'Merry Christmas' in the UK, and has been for some time.The modern celebration of Christmas in the UK came from Dickens, and to quote from A Christmas Carol (1843) "
    "I do," said Scrooge. "Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You're poor enough."

    I'm sure some people say 'Happy Christmas' but it sounds odd (even in the UK) and is far less common.

  30. Kylopod said,

    November 22, 2010 @ 10:09 am

    Looking at Google News archive, I found instances of it in the 19th century U.S. For example, this 1880 article from NYT:

    "…I went into where she was a-sitting, wrapped up in a shawl and her husband's heavy coat around her, and I says to her, 'A happy Christmas to you.'"

  31. Mr Punch said,

    November 22, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

    We Americans have at least two kinds of intrusive "r". Here in Boston you'll hear "idears" and "Afriker," but not "Warshington," as is common in Iowa.

  32. Mark F. said,

    November 22, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

    I realize this is an old thread, but in case anyone is still paying attention to it –

    – Tom Felton's accent is pretty good, but he also sells it better than the rest.

    – The actors' real accents aren't all the same, it seems to me. Am I wrong? Can anyone characterize them regionally or otherwise?

  33. Robert Morris said,

    November 24, 2010 @ 11:02 am

    @Mr Punch: I am from Iowa and would *never* say "Warshington." On the other hand, I can think of (only) a few people who do, but I would hardly say it's "common."

    (I'm not getting defensive or anything. :))

  34. John Cowan said,

    November 30, 2010 @ 12:00 am

    Warsh and Warshington are Western Pennsylvania, but they've spread to certain spots in the West.

RSS feed for comments on this post