What is an Accent in Language?

What is an Accent in Language?

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What is an Accent in Language [English, Regional, Foreign]. Picture showing a magnifying glass looking over a globe, GoLocalise, accents, voice over

As an international Voice-Over agency in the UK, we work daily with over 300 different accents worldwide! Here we want to share some experiences and learnings about what an accent is and, most importantly, what is packed in an accent.

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 and voice-over actors has taught us a lot. 

What’s in an Accent?

You may assume that our clients reach out in search of a specific language for voice-over projects. But, would you have ever imagined that oftentimes, they’re after a specific accent, too? 

Perhaps you’re now 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 Voice-Over artist, or “accentless” artist? 

Let’s take a look at a few examples to explore the question behind this post: what is an accent and what’s packed in an accent?

Definition of 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 an English Voice Over agency, we work with several British Voice Over artists who offer regional accents of English. Such as specific (or even general) northern accents

The way in which we may distinguish that their accent differs from 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.

But, accents can go beyond the regional sphere.

Speaking Accented English

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. 

What About Social Accents?

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.

How to Choose the Right Accent for a VO?

Whether accurate or not, it goes beyond doubt that accents carry associations of prestige and other social factors. In the Voice-Over 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 VoiceOver 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 voice-over 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 voiceover artist voice an advert or campaign in accented English. This could then appeal to potential customers through an accent local to the destination.

Looking for a specific accent?

At Golocalise, an international VO agency, we are very proud to cater to all language services needs. This, with the aid of our many linguists and Voice-Over actors alike. 

Having had a look at the subtleties that can be conveyed by different accents, make sure to check out our pool of talented and multi-faceted voice over artists. 

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 Different Accents in Spanish Voice Overs, or How to Get a Perfect British Voice Over!

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 audio and video translation services for several years now, we also provide voice over services in any language or accent and subtitling and captioning services. Whether you need voice overs or subtitles, we’d love to hear from you.

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