The Terminator. Mr. Universe. Mr. Olympia. The Governator.
Whichever name you use, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a household name in North America. He is a public figure whose accent is well known and embraced. He is a perfect example of embracing his Austrian English accent (instead of wanting to eliminate it) while maximizing his English speech intelligibility. He has succeeded in many professional endeavours and continues to work in acting with 4 movies coming out this 2017 and thus far, 1 coming out in 2018.
According to this article, at first, “In his 1969 movie debut Hercules in New York, [his accent] was so thick i t was dubbed after filming. In his second movie The Long Goodbye, in 1973, he played a deaf mute”, but now it is a personal signature and calling card. He transformed it into a trademark. He even claims to not have an accent anymore but actually intentionally inserts one into his acting because of the notoriety.
Let’s break it down
Arnold Schwarzeneggar was born in Thal, Styria, Austria and only moved to the U.S. when he was 21 years old. His native dialect is Austrian German and his development of the English language only probably began when he was 21.
Difficulty with English /r/. I suspect it is substituted with a uvular /r/ or trilled /r/. Amateur impersonators may drop the r-sound entirely so ‘Arnold’ becomes ‘Ahnold’
word-final voiced consonants are devoiced. As such, he would have difficulty with /b/, /d/, /g/, /v/, voiced 'th'. Although the voiced consonants are present in the language, they are not common as the last sound in a word.
For example, /v/ becomes /f/
Predator (1987) - "”Diss ting iss hunting us, all uff us.”
Twins (1988) - "In case uffa fy-a, I could haff giffen de alaam, ant safed all de odda offans.”
/z/ becomes /s/
“Is" (actually pronounced as 'iz' becomes “iss". It rhymes with Meese)
Change all “ h’s" and double t’s to d’s.
”Sit offuh deyah.”
Vowel umlautization to connote fronting or rounding.
”He’s been murdered!” becomes, ”Heese been myurdered!” A driven man is properly called ”a wyurgaholic.” And any act of violence should be preceded with ”I don’t want to hyurt you.”
Typically, low pitched. This can be perceived as more masculine and fits his large physical presence as well.
Because of his Austrian German native tongue, Arnold's sound repertoire tends to include more "harsh" sounds. German in general contains more uvular and pharyngeal sounds. These more guttural sounds give the connotation of toughness, intensity and in some cases aggression.
There are also some traits and characteristics that are unique to the Terminator. From the caricatures, the grunting, laughing and yelling are typical in the character typecast that Arnold plays.
Let me know what I missed or got wrong! I am by no means an expert in the accent but would love to know if I'm on the right track with my analysis!
Till next time!
I'll be back!
Avery, P. & Ehrlich, S. Teaching American English Pronunciation. Oxford University Press, 2012.