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What's in an Accent?

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

October 10, 2006

Comments (7)

accents-dialects-for-voiceovers.jpgIn the international marketplace, it is very important for organizations to be able to both globalize and localize their product information and service offerings.

If you can perform a number of distinct accents, you've positioned yourself well to record voice-overs not only on a national level, but on the world stage as well.

That being said, the information presented to their target audiences is only as effective as the means by which it is communicated.

For our purposes, the vessel or means of communication is via a voice talent performance; in essence, a voice-over recording.

Now, when I refer to localization, I mean that a given accent and manner of speaking matches or correlates with a particular group of people in a geographical area.

An example:

If I were writing a French Canadian script for an audience located in Montreal, QC, I would make sure that the terminology I use is familiar to French Canadians living in Montreal. Not only that, I may employ unique speech and formation characteristics indigenous to the French Canadian language and relevant cultural references to help my audience identify with what I have written.

Going one step further, I would hire a native French Canadian voice talent from Montreal who embodies the characteristics I am looking for to convey the copy in a meaningful and direct manner accessible to all French Canadian speakers in Montreal.

Sound like a plan? That, my friends, is localization in a nutshell.

Localization is conveying a message to people in a specific geographical location implementing language and concepts that they can understand.

Certain accents have become staples and are relied upon heavily every day. For example, RP English (or BBC English / top of the scale), Neutral American (NPR or prime time national news), Parisienne French, and Canadian (CBC or prime time national news) are all members of an elite club of corporate, global accents.

This doesn't come as a surprise. The most neutral accents found in each country are usually prized above regional accents as is the case with many languages where a "high" or "official" version is preferred to dialects spoken in rural or isolated areas.

One classic example is the Italian language. Italian, when spoken in Rome or in other large Italian cities, does not vary significantly, whereas the Italian you hear in the foothills of the mountains or on the coastline may be dramatically different, in both pronunciation and meaning.

When someone is hiring a voice talent to record, they are often looking for a clean, polished voice with neutral or non-affected accents. These sought after accents as noted above (BBC, NPR, CBC) come with a host of benefits, including perceived authority, intelligence, trustworthiness, and professionalism to name some.

Other accents remain more elusive. Due in part to a lack of demand or market, these accents are requested less often.

Accents can reveal information about an individuals geographical location, ethnicity, socio-economic background, and education. If we only examined the nature of accents from an anthropological point of view, we'd be seeing a fraction of the picture that we're meant to view.

Accents are not always predestined and meant solely for those who live in their district... they can also be learned or acquired.

This is where opportunity knocks, and the world, with your voice, can become yours.

Last month, Pat Fraley and his fellow accents masters conducted a workshop called Accent on Dialects Masters Event, a workshop where talent learned about how to identify their own dialects, how to recognize properly executed dialects, tried their hand at British, Irish, German, Russian, and N.Y. accents, and received a bounty of resources on how to prepare for and perform dialects foreign to themselves as well as recordings of their voices on a CD from the workshop.

One of the largest markets for dialects (or accents) today is in performing voice overs for videogames.

If you can acquire several key dialects, you'll be able to work globally and land more diverse roles.

Have you ever acquired an accent to perfection?

Best,

Stephanie

Related Topics: Accent, French, German, how to, videogames


Comments


    Stephanie,

    My story is sort of the reverse of what you've written about.

    In 1973 I was still in college, and spent the summer working as an apprentice for a professional theatre troupe in Chicago. One day I mentioned my desire to be an actor to a member of the company who had become a friend. Another member of the company overheard my comment, looked me up and down for a couple of moments and then said, "Well, the first thing you're going to have to do is get rid of that horrible regional accent."

    Wham! That was the first moment I ever realized that I even had an accent. (I'm originally from the farm country of central Minnesota.)

    Over the following 7 years or so, I committed myself to "unlearning" my accent and to learning how to speak in a neutral American accent. I guess it worked because in the more than 30 years since, I've been picked out as being from Minnesota only once. And I've been asked dozens of times why, if I'm from Minnesota, I don't have that accent.

    Oh ya, but if I have to, I can recapture that upper Midwest sound, ya know.

    Be well,
    Bob

    Posted by:

      Well, I can certainly fall back on my native west Texas accent if needed; that I've got down cold. ;)

      I do a fair Southern English, although I was told it strayed close to East Midlands. If I ever get to visit across the pond, perhaps I can tighten that up.

      Posted by:

        I can relate. I started working on losing my southern accent when I was 16. But you give me a moonpie and an RC cola and it comes right back out.

        Posted by:

          Gentlemen,

          Thank you for your comments!

          I'm glad it was pointed out that sometimes a degree of 'unlearning' is required to find work.

          I'm sure the same principles apply across the pond, too.

          Can anyone else identify with the process of unlearning a regional accent?

          Any tips?

          Stephanie

          Posted by:

            Hi everyone,

            Accents do add points to your marketability.. however here in the PH, we have about 83 dialects that you can "accentuate" with each other, and where ENGLISH is understood everywhere, we have unimaginable varieties of the language.

            I've had problems with regional accents before, I guess one way of unlearning this accent is watching and listening to people of a different accent (kinda, obvious), but for the most part you really have to speak and learn more about the language and maybe even the lifestyle of the people you are trying to get the accent from.

            I hope it helps, It worked for me :)

            Brian Mathew
            http://bigbrian.voices.com

            Posted by:

              I have a question, that I would love to talk more on, if we were to take on English as an official language, how much would accent have an effect on that, could we have an official language? what would the standard be? what would be positive, negative?

              Posted by:
              • Tina
              • April 8, 2009 11:49 PM

                a stress or emphasis given to certain musical notes. b. a mark indicating this. c. stress or emphasis regularly recurring as a feature of rhythm.

                degree of prominence of a syllable within a word or of a word within a phrase: primary accent; secondary accent.

                http://www.neutralaccent.com/accent-training.php

                Posted by:

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