Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Accents & Dialects for Stage & Screen

This guide is designed to provide an overview of resources available in the libraries relating to accents and dialects.

Music & Performing Arts Library

Profile Photo
Music and Performing Arts Library
Contact:
1300 Music Building
1114 W. Nevada St.
Urbana, IL 61801
217.333.1173
Website
Subjects: Dance, Music, Theatre

Credits

This guide was developed in collaboration with Allison Moody, Visiting Assistant Professor of Voice and Speech in the Department of Theatre.

Welcome

Welcome to the Music & Performing Arts Library (MPAL) guide to accents and dialects for the stage and screen!

Actors, comedians, satirists and many other storytellers use accents to bring their stories to life. But how do they convincingly sound like someone from a different region or country? Some people can simply listen to an accent a few times and easily mimic that accent. Others have to meticulously research and practice the accent before it feels and sounds natural. This guide is meant to support any individual wherever they may be in their facility with Dialect Acquisition.

Use the tabs to the left to navigate the guide, and refer to the overviews below to get a general sense of each section. 

About this Guide

The Dialect Acquisition Process is composed of several steps, and this guide is designed to reflect this process.

Listening & Observing 

Listening to and observing both native speakers of the accent (primary sources) and actors incorporating the accent into a performance (secondary source).

Identifying & Analyzing 

Identifying and analyzing the specific changes in the accent’s pronunciation of English speech sounds. These specific changes are also called substitutions. In these first two steps, the shape of a speaker’s vocal tract can also be analyzed. This specific shape is also called mouth posture or vocal tract posture. Pitch, tone, rhythm, tempo and overall musicality of the accent are also important to note.

Practicing

Practicing the mouth posture, substitutions and musicality on specific words and phrases that prominently feature the substitutions. 

Applying 

Applying the accent to text that is specifically written for that accent/dialect. 

Understanding

Understanding the history and culture in which the accent is heard is necessary in order to create an honest representation of a human being rather than a stereotype or caricature. 

Definitions

ACCENT: The cumulative auditory effect of those features of pronunciation which identify where a person is from, regionally or socially. The linguistics literature emphasizes that the term refers to pronunciation only, and is thus distinct from dialect, which refers to grammar and vocabulary as well.

DIALECT: A regionally or socially distinctive variety of language, identified by a particular set of words and grammatical structures. Spoken dialects are usually also associated with a distinctive pronunciation, or accent. Any language with a reasonably large number of speakers will develop dialects, especially if there are geographical barriers separating groups of people from each other, or if there are divisions of social class.

-- from The Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics


Accent and Dialect are often used interchangeably. But more specifically, accent is the way a person or a group of people pronounces words. Dialect refers to both the accent and the grammatical rules of the language. Further insight into the distinction is discussed by Ben T. Smith on his post on the dialect blog: http://dialectblog.com/2011/01/28/dialect-vs-accent/.  Babbel also dives into the discussion as well: https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/accents-and-dialects