What’s in an accent?

What’s in an accent?

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Picture showing a magnifying glass looking over a globe, GoLocalise, accents, voice over

As a leading international VO agency in the UK, you might rightly expect us to be well acquainted with the quirks and idiosyncrasies of many different languages. Indeed, our steady work over the years with a wide range of talented, international linguists has taught us a lot. In terms of the different syntaxes, grammar and vocabularies associated with different languages and their families. Just one of the perks of being immersed in the localisation industry!

Behind accents

However, another aspect to take into consideration is accents. This can refer to both regional accents and “foreign” accents. You may (again, rightly) assume that our clients reach out to us for projects in search of a specific language. But, would you have ever imagined that oftentimes, they’re after a specific accent, too? Perhaps you’re asking yourself why clients would bother going beyond a language choice and specifying an accent. Wouldn’t they try to reach wider audiences by just going for the most “neutral” sounding VO artist, or “accentless” artist? (If that even exists). Let’s take a look at a few examples to explore the question behind this post: what’s packed in an accent?

To understand the different connotations, associations and nuances that can be found in an accent, let’s first explore what an accent is. The simplest definition is: the way in which a language is pronounced. For example, as a top English VO agency, we work with several VO artists who offer regional accents. Such as specific (or even general) northern accents. The way in which we may distinguish that their accent differs to a standard, RP accent (received pronunciation, think: similar to the Queen’s English) is in their pronunciation of certain vowels. Take the word “bath” – in RP English it’s pronounced with a long, back /a:/ sound. whilst in many variants of a Northern English accent, it’d be pronounced with a short, open /a/ sound. This is just one example of how the pronunciation of one sound can place a speaker on opposite ends of one country.

What’s more?

But, accents can go beyond the regional sphere. Many of our linguists who are native speakers of languages other than English offer “accented English” voice reels for our clients to check out. A so-called foreign accent like in these cases does not refer to learned, regional differences in the pronunciation of a native tongue. But rather to those elements of the speaker’s pronunciation that could give away that they are speaking a second or learned language. An example could be a Spanish speaker’s more guttural pronunciation of the sound represented by the letter <h> in English, since the Spanish language does not contain the voiceless, glottal, fricative consonant packed in <h>, but rather has a velar fricative consonant with a “guttural” sound.

On the surface, it seems quite simple. To a trained ear, at least, an accent can reveal the area within a country that somebody is from. Or potentially even a speaker’s origin if they are speaking a second or learned language. Beyond these geographical tell signs, however, an accent can communicate a lot more than that. Accents can offer insight into a speaker’s background, as well as many other social factors such as class, educational background. And other characteristics closely linked with identity. It is important to remember that this insight can be mistaken and may derive from stereotypes. So, by no means can somebody’s accent be taken as a hard indicator of these factors.

However, it is undeniable that there are certain connotations and nuances conveyed by people’s accents. This can be evidenced by code-switching: the (conscious or subconscious) alternation between variants or accents of a language in conversation. You can probably all relate to purposefully tweaking your accent during a job interview in order to come across as “well-spoken” in front of a potential employer, whilst you may do the opposite in social contexts with peers and drop your <g>s or <t>s in order to come across as more down to earth or relatable.

Choose the right accent

 Whether accurate or not, it goes beyond doubt that accents carry associations of prestige and other social factors. In this industry, this can be very fun to play with and ultimately a real asset to any VO artist who can boast several accents. This links back to our initial question of why a client may be after a specific accent. They could, of course, simply want to appeal to a target audience in a specific region. And also have their VO accurately reflect the accent of that region. They may, however, want to convey much more subtle messages through their choice of VO artist.

For example, it has been found that native English speakers associate certain northern accents. Such as a Yorkshire accent, with values such as being trustworthy and hard-working. For this reason, clients wanting to transmit such values and convey that their product is reliable may opt for a VO artist with this particular accent. Similarly, we often receive briefs from clients who are after voices that sound relatable and personable. The client may then opt for a regional accent or that there isn’t a strong RP accent. A travel and tourism company based in an English-speaking country may see sense in having their VO artist voice an advert or campaign in accented English. This could then appeal to potential customers through an accent local to the destination.

Check us out!

As a top international VO agency, we are very proud to cater to all language needs. This, with the aid of our many linguists and VO artists alike. Having had a look at the subtleties that can be conveyed by different accents, makes sure to check out our pool of talented and multi-faceted VO artists HERE. Many of our English VO artists can offer at least a couple of regional accents. Additionally, our international VO talents can be the answer to your foreign language marketing. And provide you with tailored accented-English voices.

FUN FACT! Did you know that there are more than 300 different sign languages used around the world? And that sign languages have accents? There are regional variations in most sign language systems.

Enjoyed this blog? Check out a similar blog on the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese HERE. Or click for our previous blog on the use of non-binary terms in languages HERE.

Remember, if you’d like to discuss your next project, then give us call on +44 (0) 207 095 5730 or email [email protected] for a quote.

As well as providing translation services for several decades now, we also provide voice over and subtitling services. Whether you need voice overs or subtitles, we’d love to hear from you.

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