Ready, Set, Speak in an English Accent!

I’m currently in an acting class (as I mentioned in my past post about marionette dolls), and I’ve been waiting to do something that I’ve generally shied away from: accents. And since I’ve been taught about the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) in my other class this semester in linguistics, speaking with an accent is now something I might be able to accomplish! My problem was figuring out how to start up an accent (what makes this accent different from my own?) and keep it going, unless it is a southern accent. For whatever reason, although I have not a drop of down-home blood in me, any accent I try to do morphs right into a southern U.S. one. German, Indian, and English accents—any of them from my lips would become bastardized biscuits-n-gravy versions of themselves, even if I had a good start. I therefore gave up accents (even though I really wanted to use them, because they are highly amusing and useful).

​Now, however, our acting teacher has assigned a partner and I an English play to work on. It’s called Top Girls by Caryl Churchill, and we’re only performing the final scene. There are two characters in this scene: Marlene (who’s upper-class English) and her older sister, Joyce (who’s of the lower class). Marlene (cast as: my partner) is more cultured and has clearly articulated speech, broad high-front-tense-unrounded vowels (“a”), more rounded low-lax-back vowels (“ah”), and soft voiced-palatal-liquid consonants (“r”). Joyce (cast as: me), however, is a little more rough around the edges and has broad high-front-tense-unrounded vowels, soft voiced-palatal-liquid consonants, soft voiced-alveolar-liquid consonants (“l”) in mid and final positions in words, lopped off voiceless-glottal fricatives (“h”) at the beginning of words, more rounded low-lax-back vowels, glottal stops (the sound you’d make in between the sounds “uh” and “oh”) where Americans use the flap (the “d” sound in “better”), and also a glottal stop when any alveolar stops (“d” or “t”) appear at the ends of words (but are not between two vowels). This obviously not the only way to concoct an English accent, but rather the advice given to me from my teacher for this particular character and scene. It feels like a lot to manage, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

​Best part: my teacher’s FROM England, so she’s helping us a lot…but then she’ll also know for sure if something’s not authentic. I’m sure she’d understand if the speaking’s not spot on, but I do want to do a good job. I’ve got to go through my lines a LOT this weekend. We’re supposed to be off-book by December 10th (so I’ve got time to get it memorized), but I won’t be able to act a lot if I’m still concentrating so much on the accent. Now that I can identify differences using IPA, though, I have a better chance of creating a believable and consistent accent.

This post was inspired by the Daily Post prompt entitled “Ready, Set, Done!

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