Tongue Tips Issue 11
Since it's been nearly a year since the last newsletter, I figure an issue is overdue.
This issue will cover the /l/ sound as it's heard in a couple of different dialects, the /l/ sound in a neutral American accent and my recent activities.
There's also a link to an article for which I was interviewed about dialect coaching in Backstage, the casting newspaper in New York and Los Angeles.
Please note: I've done an interim makeover on my website. Take a look when you get a moment: it's at http://www.thedialectcoach.com.
The /l/ Sound in Irish and New Zealand Accents
Lately I've been working with a boy who grew up in Ireland as well as a couple of women from New Zealand, all of whom are learning the American accent for use in their acting careers. I was struck by how similarly they all produced the /l/ sound -- with a very tense tongue tip -- until I remembered that many Irish people emigrated to New Zealand in the mid- to late-19th century. Amazing to hear the effect of the Irish dialect on the New Zealand accent so many years later.
The /l/ sound as it's used in English is called a lateral sound: the tongue-tip touches the gum ridge (the bony ridge around the roof of the mouth) and the sides of the tongue relax, allowing the air to escape laterally, or to either side of the tongue-tip.
If you're working on an Irish or New Zealand accent, you'll do well to keep your tongue-tip and the rest of your tongue very tense when pronouncing the /l/ sound. Try it in these words: look, like, lip, little (the double t should sound like a /t/: don't turn it into a /d/ sound, as Americans often do), really, will, tell, sell. The /l/ sound heard here is a clear /l/, as it uses just the tip of the tongue, as opposed to a dark /l/, for which the back of the tongue is also raised.
For the American Accent: Get the /l/ Out of There
If you're working on a neutral American accent, you'll want to use minimal effort to form the /l/ sound. Try saying the word "look" with a very lax tongue for the first sound. You might put a bit of the "uh" sound before the /l/: this will help insure you're using a lax tongue. If you put a pronounced "uh" sound before the /l/ you'll sound like John Wayne: "uh-look here, pi-uhl-grim."
Practice your more relaxed /l/ sound in these words: light, lazy, lax, blast, slack, Philly, really and Sally.
To use a dark /l/, raise the back of the tongue when an /l/ sound is at the end of a syllable or word, like "bell". Many Americans will refrain from using the tip of the tongue for the dark /l/, so that the /l/ sound almost completely disappears. Try this very lax /l/ in words like: balcony, bill, sell, fall and crawl.
In some parts of the American South, not only is the tongue not used to form a dark /l/, the lips may be used instead. Try using your lips to make an /l/ sound (it will almost sound like a /w/) in these words: all, tell, I'll, well and seal.)
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch....
David Finkle, of Backstage, recently interviewed me for his article about dialect coaching. It runs in their Speech/Diction/Dialects issue, on newsstands now. The article is excerpted here:
May 19, 2005
Spotlight on Speech, Diction and Voiceovers
Finding a Dialect Coach Who's Right for You
Dialect coaches will tell young actors that it's not a bad idea to "have a few accents in your back pocket," as Hollywood-based Joel Goldes puts it. He says that often an actor's appearance is a good guide to what accents are initially valuable. "People come and learn a handful of dialects to match their looks," he volunteers, advising that if an actor has been told he or she can play Irish or French or Italian or Cuban, those are the dialects worth refining. And then continuing to practice, since, like anything else involving muscles, dialects need regular workouts.
Goldes has been shuttling between the films Art School Confidential and the Tom-Cruise-starrer War of the Worlds. On the former, he’s confabbing with Jim Broadbent, as well as with young actors Sophia Myles and Max Minghella, “on all his shooting days”. The situation here is that the English actors are playing Americans. “Most English actors are adept at working in different accents.” Goldes says, but it’s the similarities between American and English sounds that trip up performers.
“Those distinctions are very hard to hear, he says. “Things are tricky going both ways.” With War of the Worlds, he’s tending to Canadian actor Justin Chatwin, who’s playing Cruise’s son. “He has a slight Canadian accent,” Goldes reports, “so I’m seeing there’s no trace of ‘outs and abouts.’ Goldes pronounces “outs and abouts” as “oots and abouts.” He has been meeting with Chatwin a couple of times a week over several weeks, which is not an uncommon schedule for any dialect coach trying to cadge time when so many other obligations pull at an actor.
The way to find a dialect coach -- particularly if there's none on a production the actor is part of -- is to ask for referrals from acting coaches, agents, casting directors, or other actors. (New York acting coach Harold Guskin tells his actors to start before they've delved deeply into developing the character.) These days it's also a helpful idea to get on the Internet, where you can Google "dialect coach" to turn up names. Goldes, for instance, can be found at www.thedialectcoach.com. As for finding a coach with whom the actor is compatible, Goldes recommends a sample session, especially if the actor is looking for a lengthy relationship….
-- David Finkle
It's been a busy year of coaching for me. Part of last summer was spent working on a feature film called Art School Confidential. I was brought in to work for an hour with Jim Broadbent, the great English actor, on his American accent. I ended up staying for all his scenes, as well as working with the other English leads Max Minghella and Sophia Myles, who were also doing American accents. This film is by the same director and writer (Terry Zwigoff and Dan Clowes) who did Ghost World, and I recently had the chance to see a completed version. It's very funny, and also stars John Malkovich and Angelica Huston. It will be released in September.
I also worked for several weeks on Mini's First Time, starring Jeff Goldblum, Carrie-Ann Moss and Alec Baldwin. I was helping a lovely Russian actress, Svetlana Metkina, with her accent, and I also did a bit of work with Nikki Reed, who plays the title role, on her Southern accent.
I helped Canadian actor Justin Chatwin prepare for his role playing Tom Cruise's son in this summer's The War of the Worlds (http://www.waroftheworlds.com/), directed by Steven Spielberg. This film will be released in theaters everywhere June 29.
I also prepped a couple of Australian actors for their roles in two films: Simon Baker in Land of the Dead (view trailer at http://www.apple.com/trailers/universal/landofthedead/medium.html) and Joel Edgerton in Open Window.
I spent a few days on the dramatic series Without a Trace, coaching two actors in their Central African accents for the season finale, which aired a couple of weeks ago.
Three clients were recently cast on TV shows after phone coaching with me: Cristine Rose plays a Russian ice skating coach in Go Figure, airing on the Disney Channel Friday, June 10 at 8 pm/7 Central; Jane Taini played an Australian woman on ABC's Lost, which has already aired, but will be re-run soon; and Paul McCarthy-Boyington played an English computer hacker on Alias (Paul is in Florida at this writing, filming the role of a native Central Floridian, with Everglades accent to match, for the feature film Altered).
Brazilian accents have been in demand: I helped Matthew Marsden with his for D.O.A., a film based on the popular video game; and I worked in the ADR (Automated Data Recording) studio with Shannyn Sossamon, looping some of her lines for the film Undiscovered.
If you buy or rent the DVD re-release of Disney's The Parent Trap, starring an 11 year-old Lindsay Lohan, watch for me being interviewed about dialects as a bonus "featurette".
I've coached many plays in the past year, including the premiere production at the Kirk Douglas Theatre as well as shows at LA TheatreWorks for National Public Radio, Actor's Co-op, the Rubicon and others. I'm currently working on a very moving piece called A Long Bridge Over Deep Waters, the culmination of a four-year exploration of faith-based communities around Los Angeles by the Cornerstone Theater. It's being produced in the beautiful Ford Amphitheater in the Cahuenga Pass and has been very challenging and fulfilling to work on (Cahuenga is, as we learn in the play, a Tongva, or Native American name). The dialects I've coached include Cambodian (and a few lines in the Khmer language), Persian, Polish, Russian, American and Mid-Atlantic. Performances are June 3-5 and June 9-12. Visit http://cornerstonetheater.org/ for complete information.
Throw in some work on a reality TV series and a handful of commercials, and it's been a busy year.
Hope all's well in your neck of the woods. Please be in touch if I may be of assistance.