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VOICE ACTING
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 language. 

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


I've noticed the same sort of degradation in voice over spots lately, and think it stems from the desire to have more 'conversational' reads. 

Unfortunately, though, people equate 'conversational' with 'sloppy' and not the simpler things - like a glottal stop or using contractions. 

We 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:
"Ta-morrow 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 ...
  • Before ... Ba-four
  • Behind ... Ba-hind
  • Didn't ... Dint
  • Eleven ...  Al-levan
  • Elite ... Ah-leet
  • Emissions ... Ah-missions
  • Essential ... Ass-N-chill
  • Experiment ... Ax-pear-a-mint
  • February ... Feb-you-ary
  • Fredericton ... Fredrickten
  • Hundred ... Hun-erd
  • Immediately ... Ah-meed-e-atly
  • Internet ... Inner-net
  • News ... Nooze
  • Official ... Ah-fish-al
  • Olympics ... Aw-limpics
  • Recorded ...  Ra-corded
  • Remain ...  Rah-main
  • Remainder ...  Rah-mainder
  • Remained ... Ra-mained
  • Reminder ... Rah-minder
  • Reserves ... Ra-zerves
  • Return ... Ra-turn
  • Review ...  Ra-view
  • Temperature ... Temp-a-chur
  • The letter "W" ... Dubb-a-you
  • To ... Ta
  • Today ... Ta-day
  • Tomorrow ... Ta-morrow 
  • Toronto ... Ta-ranna
  • Tuesday ... Choose-day
  • Wouldn't ...  Wu-nt                      
VO COLLEAGUES REPLY ...
"Nicely written - sweet and to the point! :)"  
Thanks!"
- 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

"Very 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
WHAT'S CAUSING THIS?

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.  

Regionalization

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 oddities.

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 your noses."

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 so on.

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 ... 

Generation

How much of a deviation from commonly-accepted, "proper" English pronunciation is rooted in generational differences?

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?

I Love 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...  

Emulation 

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, etc.

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 adulthood.   

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?
  • 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?  
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.  
Just my $.02. - John Kissinger
-------------------
ABOUT RICK

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
Email: rgordon@commercialvoices.com

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Comments (15)
James Dishun
10/21/2017 at 10:36 PM
Pet peeve:

Comf-ter-ble -- that takes the comfort out of it.
Viktor Pavel
9/14/2017 at 4:08 AM
Hello Rick. Thank you for your excellent article - the best I have read on this somewhat annoying subject. Yes, annoying voice over professionals here in Germany too, where we use many terms that are coined by merging several words. "Non-pros" in front of the microphone then for some obscure reason tend to stress the wrong word or syllable. "FighterFIGHTER", "airPORT", you get the picture. When I started in voice over land some 25 years ago there wasn't a single recording studio without a pronunciation reference book at hand. So in case of doubt we always looked the term up. That was before the internet. Now that knowledge is a mere mouse click away it seems to have decreased in value and esteem. I donīt know. Well, I guess the phenomenon that people donīt know how to do what theyīre paid to do has become ubiquitous these days. Best wishes from Berlin. Viktor (voice over artist + live interpreter)
Beverly Bremers
9/11/2017 at 5:27 PM
Great article! I share your frustration, though in some cases, the pronunciations have been loosened permanently, such as February and all the words that begin with"re". ("reh" sounding very similar to "rah") I do certainly hate "yer" for "your" and "r" for "our". (I was actually told to say "r" by a director in a session). Ditto for "innernet", which I believe is now considered an alternate pronunciation, as is saying the "t" in "often".

My biggest peeve these days, which I hear mispronunciations of every day on the air, is hearing words that are nouns as well as verbs, spelled the same way, but pronounced differently. I always tell my vo students to remember "record a record" as the rule, the noun having the stress on the 1st syllable & the verb on the 2nd syllable, such as permit, refund, increase, decrease, etc.

My other pet peeve is less annoying, but deserves mention. Americans don't know how to pronounce French words that are a part of the English language. "En route", for example, is not "n" but "on". And the words that end with "age" have the stress on "age", such as montage & entourage.

As mentioned in other comments, sometimes we have to "go with the flow" and embrace the changes that are taking place in our overall speech habits when trying to sound conversational & natural, but still pay attention to the important ones, like "something", not "sum'um".

Gotta go! 'k?

Beverly
jay beacham
9/11/2017 at 1:20 PM
Good topic Rick.
Thanks.
I'm always correcting people in my mind.
Yur is said for your. And so many other sloppy way people talk.
Some times it matters to hold your pink just so when speaking and sometimes not. Find what's appropriate and do so.
VO is easy, as one can make needed corrections. Live broadcast is one chance and you are out of luck unless one can say it in a couple of ways like "this word is said this way or this way" while speaking the lines.
Thanks for the good reminders on good speaking.
Jay
Joe Cirillo
9/10/2017 at 7:05 PM
Great article, I hear these mistakes all the time. My family is sick of hearing me say that's not how you say that. I really believe the problem starts with are School system. There doesn't seem to be a national standard. I have spent years and thousands of dollars to improve my diction, and these broadcasters are not helping.
Dot Fahn
9/10/2017 at 5:42 PM
Nuclear should be pronounced NOO-KLEE-ER, not "Nuke-uler"! When I hear people mispronounce this word on TV or radio it drives me nuts!
Julio Perez
9/9/2017 at 9:21 PM
There's also debate about the pronunciation of the word nuclear. Being brought up as a kid in New York City, I was taught the correct pronunciation was "New-KLEE-ur," as most of the US pronunciations for the word that can be heard on condensed link http://bit.ly/pronounce_nuclear. But I've heard it pronounced by some public speakers, college professors, and even high-ranking government officials as "NEW-queue-lur."
J. Valention
9/7/2017 at 6:34 PM
I can always tell the amateurs or wannabes in the business. They ALWAYS say the following things wrong:

Sherbet.....they say "sherburt"
Toward.....they say "towards" (you don't move forwards, do you?)
Details....they say DEE tails (in the USA, it should be deh tails)
Moscow...the say Mos COW. It's Mos co. ALWAYS.

Here's one that probably every one of you will get wrong. Pronounce the word "F-O-L-K".
Now pronounce the white of an egg.







It's albumen. Gotcha.
Jim Buchanan
9/6/2017 at 7:57 AM
How about TV news anchors (mostly women) pronouncing the word important as
Ihm-POUR-ehnt. Enunciation and pronunciation of very soft T has become very prevelant in broadcast news.
Paul Payton
9/5/2017 at 12:15 PM
Here's a PS to my other comment: localism, as referred to in the article. Is Coventry pronounced "Cuv" or "Kahv"? Is Greenwich "Green witch" or "Grenn-itch"? And watch out in Massachusetts: Woburn is "Woo-bun," Worcester is "Wuhs-ter" (or "Wuh-sta" for hyper-locals), and "Leominster" is "Lemon-ster."

More local phrasing: in Rhode Island, it's going to "the beach." In Connecticut, it's "the shoreline." In New Jersey, it's "down the shore."

And then there's in-house corporate-speak. For medical narration, does creatinine end with "nin" or "neen"? Is data pronounced "datta" or "day-ta"? I once had a client who wanted "datta" and also "daytabase." Really. And "the client is always right!"

On a serious note, I've learned how to say "tooday" as quickly as "tuh-day" without sounding forced. It did take practice, though!
Jerry Reed
9/5/2017 at 12:06 PM
Three national advertisers (Burger King, Dunkin Donuts and Subway) are all running TV commercials that have a voiceover saying: Sam-wich instead of sand-wich. After much pain I have now accepted the idea that it is "probly" intentional.
ed waldorph
9/5/2017 at 10:50 AM
Isn't it, "Tyews - day?"
Paul Payton
9/5/2017 at 10:16 AM
A far too frequent mispronunciation is Judaism. It is too often mispronounced as "Judy-ism." A rabbi I knew said to think of the meaning behind it; it is about the descendants of the tribe of Judah, not about a girl named Judy -although, he said, she's probably really cute but we are not worshiping her for that!
Fred Filbrich
9/5/2017 at 9:13 AM
Dictionary dot com gives two pronunciations for February: feb-roo-er-ee or feb-yoo-er-ee. I like to use the first pronunciation, just out of stubbornness, but more than one voice coach has told me to say "feb-yoo-er-ee" because "that's how everybody says it." It seems to be a folk process. If enough people use the wrong pronunciation, it becomes the right one.
Keith Michaels
9/5/2017 at 8:11 AM
Being from Michigan I can agree 100% with John. I also think some of the examples given are a stretch. "Before" according to Websters is "BIH-FORE" Saying "bah-fore" seems fair. Certainly not "BEE FORE" which I hear on auditions a lot. That sounds odd. I've had clients tell me to pronounce a certain word "their way" even when my way is the right way (according to Webster's) and vice versa. In the end, it's their project so they get their pronunciation. I grew up pronouncing words a certain way from hearing people in my region, only to grow up and become a "professional voice talent" to discover there are other ways to pronounce a word. "often" or "off-en." I have always pronounced the T. Everybody I grew up around pronounced the "T," so in my early days when a client would say "please say OFF-EN I would scratch my head. Now, I just give up and do what they ask. As John Kissinger stated, is there one proper way to speak English? I don't think so.
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