When People Are PAID To SPEAK, Shouldn't
They Pronounce The Words Correctly?
September 5, 2017
By Rick Gordon
Voice Talent & Owner
e-LearningVoices.com & CommercialVoices.com
First, let me tell
you that I am not a linguist, an English teacher, nor in any way do I profess to
be a bonafide pronunciation expert on the North American English
But I am an experienced
broadcaster with an ear for pronunciation.
And a pet
peeve of mine is getting worse every day.
I don't know if you are
like me, but when you hear professional TV broadcasters read English it can make you wonder how they were even considered for the job.
(I am probably
awakening an awareness in your head that will antagonize you forever. Sorry about that.)
Below is a list of a few words for which I won't
even give the correct pronunciation because you know them already - but this is
what the "real" words have become.
Even seasoned broadcasters are caught up in this. Don't they realize that many children
learn pronunciation from Professional Speakers who are paid to speak?
What about all the immigrants learning English for the first time? Our
language is hard enough to learn as it is, let alone steering students down the
wrong path from Day One.
IN VOICE OVERS, TOO
noticed the same sort of degradation in voice over spots lately, and think it
stems from the desire to have more 'conversational' reads.
though, people equate 'conversational' with 'sloppy' and not the simpler things
- like a glottal stop or using contractions.
might be hyper-aware of this due to the genre we specialize in. For instance, E-Learning tends to hang around longer than a spot and is listened to more
closely, so you have to be more exacting in pronunciations.
FOR EXAMPLE ...
Let me give you a practical example. Let's say you and I are talking face-to-face and you are telling me:
"Tomorrow I am going to read the reform bill about re-organizing the
Olympics into a more encompassing worldly event. I think they have hit
on some hot topics and the idea is to have an election of officials
which more represents a worldly population." I know you know how to
pronounce all these words. But this is what you might end up saying:
I am going to read the rah-form bill about re-organizing the
Awe-lympics into a more encompassing worldly ah-vent. I think they have
hit on some hot topics and the idea is to have an ah-lection of
ah-fficials which more represents a worldly population." If
you read this script in front of a microphone, chances are you would get
it right because you are being paid to speak.
But that's the
problem. This is not happening in the broadcast world.
Well, that's my mini
rant for the day. I feel better already.
BTW: I took the liberty of sharing my frustration with some colleagues, whose replies appear below the "rant list." I greatly appreciate their thoughts and participation!WORD RANT LIST ...
Do you hear what I hear? Below is the "original" word, followed by what many broadcasters are saying ...
VO COLLEAGUES REPLY ...
- The letter "W"
"Nicely written - sweet and to the point! :)"
WHAT'S CAUSING THIS?
- Mike McGonegal
"It's important for talent to
understand the level of formality required by their copy and their character as
it relates to the target listener. Today's VO world is all about being
'relatable,' which means that we have to sound comforting to the person we are
talking to. Under-enunciation on a detailed medical module would stand out like
a sore thumb, whereas over-enunciation on a barista training for Starbucks
would be equally jarring."
- J. Michael Collins
"In response to Rick's rant,
Bravo, Rick! I know a lot of folks insist
diction must be softened nowadays to achieve that conversational vibe we all
must generate, but when it strays into outright errors, it gets my nanny goat.
I'd like to add three
fingernails-on-the-chalkboard phrases I've heard come out of the mouths of
professional speakers. 'Anyways' instead of 'anyway.' We don't say 'anywheres.' People! Please. It's anyway.
There is no 'besides the point.' You are not 'besides' the bus stop. It is beside the point.
And I sprayed my dashboard with coffee last
week when I heard an NPR announcer say, 'That's a whole nuther
thing' (fume, spit, sputter, shiver,
twitch). There. Are. No. Words."
- Kim Handysides
"I find it disconcerting that so many professional voice talents get
lazy or sloppy in their pronunciations. Of course it's just as bad when they
over enunciate! It drives me nuts to hear people add a syllable or letter to a
word. Who knew that the word 'in' could be pronounced 'inah'? And don't get me started on 'off-ten' or 'off-en'!"
- Dan Hurst
"The key take-away from Rick's article: make your voice-over performance a
thing of choice, not subconscious default. CHOOSE the pronunciation
you use to suit the copy, the client, and the audience. If you don't,
you'll end up pigeonholed as an actor with a certain accent and only
useful on a handful of specialized jobs."
- Jack deGolia
true how lax we have become, but it seems the pendulum has swung to a more
approachable authentic read, which incorporates a more relaxed way with words.
But you can add, 'Fur-ever' instead of 'Forever' 'cause I fall into that trap! I
hate when I do that!"
- Linda Bruno
This topic really touched a nerve in John Kissinger, a voice actor and E-learning developer, who ponders why pronunciation is experiencing so much change ...
I think you've put your finger on something
that is symptomatic of so many things: regionalization, generation,
emulation ... and possibly other "-ations" as well.
Though I have a background in Anthropology,
Linguistics wasn't my dedicated discipline of study. Nevertheless, in
reflecting on what you've written, it seems to me that "common
speech" is and always has been fluid - ever evolving.
In short, was there
ever one proper way to speak English? I'm not so sure.
Here in the States, we might imagine that
our ancestors must have spoken something approximating what once was the King's
English - itself spoken differently in different parts of the kingdom. No
doubt that was the case in your native Canada, too.
Or, perhaps our ancestors
spoke heavily-accented, immigrant English from parts unknown.
Since then, from
one corner of our respective countries to the others, English is highly
localized to the people and place. Some are more dialectical. Others are just
Take my home state of Michigan, for instance. Here in the heart of
the Midwest, we're perceived as having a desirable, neutral accent. Many
broadcast professionals around the country are either from the Midwest, or
trained to talk like they are.
Yet, in Michigan, as my late Aunt who moved
south (to Virginia) when I was a boy told me after I chided her for acquiring a
southern accent, "You Michiganders have an accent too - you talk through
Who knew? Many in Michigan have also noticed that we often
and arbitrarily add "Ss" to the ends of business names and titles.
For example, "Ford" becomes "Fords," "Kmart"
becomes "Kmarts," "Kroger" becomes "Krogers" and
Further, noted voice talent, demo producer, and coach J Michael Collins
has noticed that I habitually mispronounce the word "able" (ay-buhl),
as "eble" (eh-buhl) - something I constantly have to watch out for.
And my Dad has a habit of pronouncing "Tuesday"
("Toos-daay") as "Tuesdee" (Toos-dee).
Which brings me to
my next point ...
How much of a deviation from
commonly-accepted, "proper" English pronunciation is rooted in
Think about the books you once read. Clearly, prose
was vastly different between Victorian and Edwardian English and the writings
of the far more colloquial and terse writer Ernest Hemingway.
What about the
media we (those of us in our middle years) consumed in our collective youth -
from 1950s-60s reruns on TV to how that language changed during the 1970s?
Lucy sounds a lot different than All In The Family. What about the linguistic
differences between Dragnet and CHiPs?
What changed in the colloquial culture
in the decades between the broadcast of those shows? One can certainly
speculate. Perhaps proper Linguists know. But we can agree that they don't
sound the same.
From then until now, spoken English has transitioned from more
formal to more conversational. We certainly hear no end of that in the
voice over profession in recent years - as we strive to sound less announcery
and more real. Which also relates to...
Yet another mechanism of shifting
pronunciation that is worth consideration is the degree to which we emulate
others we admire in our respective cultures.
Maybe it's the manner of speaking
of a favorite celebrity, a sports star, a musician we wish we were more like,
I think this is particularly common amongst younger folks as they strive
to shape their own identities, independent of their parents, but perhaps not so
independent of society at large.
The patterns of speech that one practices in
one's youth are likely repeated in subtle, if not overt, ways in
What to do about it?
So, which "-ation" is at the
heart of it all? As with all things, there is seldom one root cause. Rather,
it's probably a combination of the above and possibly more "-ations"
that you might solicit from your readers.
But the larger question is, what is one to
do about it?
I personally have no answer to that. But I
can say that, in my view, there has never been one proper way to speak English,
even though it feels as though there ought to have been.
- Fight against the tide of inevitable change, or go with the flow?
- Rail against lazy-mouth syndrome, or
- Accept that that is how people talk now?
Just my $.02. - John Kissinger
Rick Gordon is a veteran broadcaster and voice talent, and owner of the voice over online casting companies CommercialVoices.com and E-LearningVoices.com.
Webs: www.CommercialVoices.com / www.E-LearningVoices.com
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