The Many Accents of English?
In voiceover, we daily hear and experience accents of English from all over the world. Accents that are so different from one another, yet come from the same root language.
This can be baffling. Why is there so much variation?
It is down to travelling people. English was brought to England in the 5th Century from Germanic tribes who migrated there. It was this method that brought it to the USA, Australia and other countries as well.
Difference in accent is a reflection of people, place and culture. This is down to the effect of time, when groups of people lived together in isolation (no cars or mass media), free of the influence of other human beings with different accents.
Thus the wide range of accents in England, which is down to small communities living together, forming their own version of English, being influenced by Geography (the Yorkshire dialect is influenced by the windy terrain) and being marked by history. For example, In the 9th Century when the Danes ruled the East Midlands while the Saxons ruled the West Midlands, causing two very different cultures to exert influence.
It was only in the 16th Century when Standardised RP started to become the norm, casting a shadow over accents that, up till that point, were accepted and not looked down upon.
Some sources suggest that the American accent of today is what used to be spoken in England. Whether this is the case, accent variation is not as large in the states as in England, despite it’s larger land mass. However, there is still significant variation and that is due to the mass influx of migrants following colonisation: with European accents hitting up against the landscape. For example the Southern Accent is an attempt to emulate the revered and admired (at the time) standard English accent, along with the open space and warmer climate.
The newest colonised country, it has significantly less variation in accent than most other countries. As so many travellers settled in Australia by incarceration or incentive, their children started to amalgamate all the accents they were hearging, and turned it into the Australian accent known today. It's also a reflection of the harsh environment at the time. However, 231 years of existence is too small a time frame to develop diversity of accent like the US or UK.
For a long time in World History Standard RP ruled with the predominance of Empire. When the US overtook England as the world power Standard American became the norm. So a default accent of the world switched from RP to Standard American.
Not anymore. Today in the UK we regularly hear more diverse accents in commercials, corporate videos, e-learning and characters for animation and gaming.
This is a great thing. There is not just one style of voice to fit everyone.
However, wherever the voice comes from Authenticity is such a big factor. It has to be real. The person has to have a connection to the place, the people and the accent. Otherwise the client’s message or the character won’t read. Like Dick van Dyke in the original Mary Poppins.
That is becoming the barometre of the moment. Real and authentic. From many different accents in history pre 16th century, to standardisation and now back to variety, authenticity and local.
History always repeats itself.
And so today, when you can choose any accent of English for a project, how to choose among them, when you are not locked by Geography? Choose the one that is personable, friendly. Which now, can mean any of them. In our immediate and more personal culture, any accent is capable of being warm, friendly and inviting.
And that is a great place to be.
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Paul Mclaughlin © Versatile Voiceovers