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.
The Dialect Acquisition Process is composed of several steps, and this guide is designed to reflect this process.
Listening to and observing both native speakers of the accent (primary sources) and actors incorporating the accent into a performance (secondary source).
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 the mouth posture, substitutions and musicality on specific words and phrases that prominently feature the substitutions.
Applying the accent to text that is specifically written for that accent/dialect.
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.
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.