Tongue Tips Issue 12
It's been nine months since the last issue and it's good to be back. In addition to announcing the launch of my new website this newsletter will touch on stress in the neutral American accent and give updates on the IDEA website and my recent activities.
As always, to be removed from this list, please reply with "unsubscribe" in the subject line.
My site, http://www.thedialectcoach.com, has undergone an extreme make-over, thanks to Joe Wein at http://www.44keys.com. Joe has really improved the look and functionality of the site, making it much more user-friendly, with clear navigation and improved graphics and features. Coming soon: The Dialect and Accent Forum, where you can discuss dialects, share resources and more, moderated by yours truly. Watch the site for the opening announcement.
IDEA Now has 500+ Dialect Samples
The IDEA site, the International Dialects of English Archive at the University of Kansas, now has over 500 free dialect samples from all over the world available for download. I'm an Editor-at-large for this great resource, founded by Paul Meier, and I recently contributed a Mexican dialect sample. Check it out at http://www.ku.edu/~idea/index.htm
Don't Stress Out
The neutral American (or region-less) dialect is one that's filled with contradictions. While the tongue needs to stay in the middle of the mouth much of the time, in a very relaxed position, it often needs to do a substantial amount of work: the tip curls up to make an /r/ sound, for instance, or the back of the tongue pushes down and back for /a/ as in "father". While making these more effortful sounds, however, it's important not to give words containing them more stress than they need. (Stress in the American accent, generally speaking, has to do with changing pitch for emphasis: the word "America" is stressed on its second syllable, so the voice rises in pitch on that syllable).
Here's an example: the word "mother" needs to be stressed on the first syllable for the American accent. We might write it here as "MUH-ther." You need a relaxed "uh" (or schwa) sound in the first, stressed syllable, but for the /r/ sound in the second syllable, which is unstressed, you need to be able to make the /r/ sound quickly without over-stressing it, so the word sounds like "MO-THER".
Another aspect of stress in the neutral American accent is knowing that the unstressed sounds in a word are often minimized or reduced, most frequently changing to the "uh" (schwa) sound. For example, someone who grew up speaking American English will pronounce the name of this country as "uh-MEHR-uh-kuh," knowing that the unstressed vowels will all turn to "uh" (schwa) sounds: the only vowel that gets its value is the spelled "e" in the stressed, second syllable.
How do you know how to stress words (or on which syllable to raise the pitch)? Since the rules of English pronunciation are inconsistent, my advice is to listen to Americans and imitate what they do. National Public Radio is a good source, since most of their anchors and commentators use quite neutral accents. You can listen via the internet at http://www.npr.org or use their station locator to find a radio station in your area.
You can also check for stress in any American dictionary. Additionally, the Merriam-Webster dictionary sells a CD-ROMs version for around $25 that contains audio pronunciations of many words. You can also hear words pronounced on their website, http://www.m-w.com.
In Other News....
Here's a sampler of my activities over the past few months, but please visit my News page (http://www.thedialectcoach.com/content.asp?contentid=535) for a more thorough listing:
Tonight marks the premiere of Black. White. on the F/X Network. The show features two families, one black, one white (that's the Wurgel family shown in make-up above) who lived together in a house for a month, and went out in public made-up as members of the other race. I helped the families learn how to sound appropriate to their new race, and was briefly seen on the Oprah Winfrey show last week, in a clip from the show. (I should also be seen in the series itself: look for me in a blue shirt.) It's received a significant amount of media coverage and looks promising. For more details and to view the trailer, visit http://www.actualreality.tv/production.html?production=blackwhite. Black. White. debuts on F/X tonight, Wednesday, March 8th at 10 PM E/P.
I helped the lovely and talented English actress Samantha Morton prepare for her role as an American in the indie feature Expired, currently filming around Los Angeles.
I had a very productive first phone session from Singapore with violinist Min Lee, helping her prepare for an interview on KUSC-FM, in support of several concerts she'll perform later this month with the San Diego Symphony. Ms. Lee grew up in Singapore and the US, and her accent reflects both those places, as well as having some British English sounds.
Two clients, brothers Zach and Jeremy Shada, were cast on the hit series Lost after I coached them in a Manchester accent.
On the TV show At the Movies, Roger Ebert called Jason Isaacs' performance in the film Nine Lives the best acting performance of the year. I coached Jason into his American accent (he's English) in this very tricky scene, an uninterrupted 12-minute long take. (Thanks to client Kamall Shaikh for passing this info along.)
I spent several days in the ADR (Automated Data Recording) studio with Ryan Phillippe, helping him with his Dutch accent for the film Five Fingers. All the sound that was recorded on location (in The Netherlands and Morocco) was too noisy and unusable, so Ryan had to rerecord his entire part. These sessions were directed by the great Laurence Fishburne, who's producing the film and stars in it as well.
Until next time, hoping all's well in your world--