Don't Guess How To Pronounce
Unfamiliar Words - Ask Or Research
By Andy Bowyer
When narrating any voice over presentation, being able to say the words is important.
Being able to say words with meaningful impact is more important.
But you might as well kiss a strong performance and meaningful impact good-bye if the words you’re saying are pronounced incorrectly.
If you’re an audiobook narrator, especially if you’re an audiobook narrator who works as a solo act - meaning that you’re not only providing the narration, but the direction, production, and engineering - it is solely up to you to do the homework required to know how to say the words that you may be unfamiliar with.
THOUGHT I KNEW ...
Wrapping your mouth around unfamiliar words these days is (seemingly) easier than ever.
There are a plethora of resources available to you for just such a thing.
Take, for example the name "Sepulveda.” I ran across this locale recently during an audiobook recording session.
I didn’t flag it in the pre-read because I thought it was intuitive enough. "Thought” being the operative word. Thought, meaning "inside my head.”
INTUITION CAN FAIL
But when it came time for my brain and my mouth to work in concert, I ran into a snag.
My brain said, "say it like ‘seh-PULL-vah-dah.’ After all, many of us say "Nevada” as ‘Neh-vah-dah’, right?” And yet, I was told many years ago by a client that it’s actually said "Neh-VAD-ah” (where the "vad” part sounds like "bad”.)
But even that didn’t resonate during the session.
The word appeared two more times, and for those subsequent pronunciations, I decided it sounded better to say it "seh-puhl-VAY-dah.”
Yeah. That’s it. Sure!
NEEDED TO CONFIRM
Confident (ish) as I was, the idea that Sepulveda is a real place, and in our business regionalisms matter (for example, I live in an area where the name "Pulaski” is not pronounced as most do–”Pull-Lass-Key”–but as "Pew-Lass-Key”), I realized that in order for the narration - as a whole - to be more authentic and believable, I needed a bit of confirmation.
Sepulvada is in the San Fernando Valley. I live in the New River Valley.
By my best estimations, geographically speaking, the distance between the two equates a BOAT LOAD of miles.
So what’s a boy (or girl) to do?
LOOK IT UP
Sure, the easy answer is "Ask the client. DUH.”
But as many can attest, sometimes that can be a slow and time consuming process.
After all, your emergency does not necessarily equate a priority on the part of someone else.
It is, in my experience, best to be proactive in these cases.
My advice: LOOK IT UP.
BEST TO HEAR IT
But where? Dictionary phonetics can be confusing - as "wrote” as they are.
But hearing is believing.
Got a problem name? Got a problem term? Not sure how to really say something in the right context?
Believe it or not, YouTube can be your BEST FRIEND.
SEARCH FOR TERM
A few simple searches on YouTube taught me that "Sepulveda” is actually pronounced "Seh-puhl-ved-uh.”
Two videos confirmed this. The first, a press conference concerning the recent "Carmageddon” phenom faced by LA commuters, the second a "Tiny Toons Adventures” short called "Sepulveda Boulevard."
Did I watch either of these vids in their entirety? No. Just long enough to confirm that the word was consistently pronounced a certain way.
And that was enough. Performance saved!
…but I could be tempted to go back and check out "Sepulveda Boulevard” when time permits …
ABOUT ANDY ...
Andy Bowyer is a nose-to-the-grindstone voice actor who has been cheerfully "saying words" for a diverse clientele for over 20 years. He also participates as a member of the SaVoa Advisory Board, and plays a mean game of backgammon.
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