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He do the police in different voices - The Ex-Communicator

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January 28th, 2012

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07:16 pm - He do the police in different voices
The last three books I have listened to on audio have been made extra enjoyable by how well they were read. Those were the American horror novels, 11.22.63 and Eutopia, and Derek Jacobi reading The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (it's so long since I read that myself, maybe 40 years. I thought I would refresh my memory). In all three cases the reader had to capture class, ethnic and regional variation by subtle use of voice.

Of course, I am fairly ignorant about American regional accents, but I could tell that in the reading of Stephen King's novel the people of Maine spoke like this and the people of Dallas and Fort Worth spoke like that. The Jewish pawn broker was given a voice like Burt Lancaster, which seems authentic and elegant. I took the various accents of Eutopia on trust - Chicago, black east-coast intellectual, Montana etc. - but I am sure the voice artist knew what he was doing. Jacobi, as you might imagine, was truly excellent. Holmes stories rapidly introduce cameo characters, defined by age, class and background. Jacobi adjusted his voice delivery to each case: very enjoyable.

Now I am listening to a new book, which promises to be right up my street. It's called Bitter Seeds and it is fantasy/horror novel set during the 2nd world war with the Nazi's deploying X-Man style ubermenschen and plucky British pagans invoking the ancient powers (as I think indeed happened, though to what effect I could not say). It's set in Europe, but written by an American author, and read by an American voice artist.

I think the voice artist is very good, in general terms, but he does not understand British accents. It's jarring to hear a butler from Nottinghamshire speaking in a cheeky Cockney accent. The Polish spy had a Russian accent, and so on. You don't even know how much you know about voice, until you hear it done wrong. This is not me saying that American readers are no good, far from it, I have enjoyed so many lately. It could easily happen the other way if a British reader assayed an American book, giving every character the same drawl.

I was talking to H about this and he thinks that there are more rigidly defined regional accents in Britain than other countries. I argued that possibly we are simply more aware of the variation in our own country, and it may be similarly complex elsewhere, but we don't know it. I honestly don't know whether (say) a German or a Malaysian can distinguish the town that someone comes from, and their relative prosperity, from their voice. I would be interested to hear other people's opinions about that.

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[User Picture]
Date:January 29th, 2012 04:32 am (UTC)
Yes, I can hear those differences too. My father was from professional middle class Sydney and my mother from working class Melbourne, and they definitely had slightly different vocabularies and accents, even despite the elocution lessons the nuns made all those working class Irish Catholic girls do. And I grew up in Melbourne usually able to tell by their speech whether someone was a Greek Australian or an Italian Australian; these days I can usually make a moderately reliable assumption as to whether their linguistic heritage is Cantonese or another Asian language (I can't hear the difference between a Vietnamese and a Mandarin-speaking Australian accent though) on the basis of the fine detail of their Australian accent. Occasionally I hear someone say something a particular way and think "oh, Western suburbs, I wouldn't have picked it from anything else", or "omg so KEW. Irish surname, must have gone to Genazzano". I grew up in Kew, although I wasn't educated at any of the big private schools there; I can even speak like I'm from there, when I choose.

To speak to communicator's point though, obvioulsy in Ausralia the regional differences aren't nearly as pronounced as in the UK, and the distance you have to travel to identify something different in the speech is much greate. And the differences can be a small signal, with a lot of noise about how formal or intimate or public or whatever someone wants to indicate that they are being drowning it out. We also use our accents to indicate our empathy and interest in people. So professional people will quite unconsciously broaden their accent at the pub or the footy or when the electrician comes around. The working class, mostly ethnic, girls my mum taught for years mostly knew how to "talk nicely" when they wanted to. You can often hear call centre employees and receptionists "talking nicely" on the phone too.
[User Picture]
Date:January 29th, 2012 05:21 am (UTC)
the regional differences aren't nearly as pronounced as in the UK, and the distance you have to travel to identify something different in the speech is much greater.

Definitely. I grew up in Glasgow and Edinburgh, where some accents are specific to particular suburbs. It took me a while to realise that Australian regional accents existed, apart from the broad country accent(s), which was obvious even to a recent immigrant.

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