Jan 11 – You gotta speaka my language.
I had my first Accent Study class last night. I really didn’t know what to expect. I was wondering what we were going to do for three hours at a time, two nights a week. I mean I figured we were going to be learning accents, but how were we going to do it, what sort of exercises were we going to have to do? What sort of assignments? Would we have to do a monologue? What accents were we going to do? So many unanswered questions.
I get there really early despite the hellish traffic and the need to get dinner beforehand. I only work a mile and a half from the school, and I had a hour and a half to get there. I eat my chicken taco and wait for my classmates to arrive.
The first is a guy who seems very exuberant. Definitely seems like a person who would be in the performing arts. Then another woman comes in. She seems a little exotic and yoga-ish. We start chatting and getting names. A guy comes in with two red playground balls and a portable CD player sets them down and he leaves. I assume he is the teacher, because who else would run around with red playground balls.
More people arrive, and one of them is a guy who I have had in a couple of classes, so that’s nice. I am not totally among strangers. We start class of course by the hated ritual of telling a little bit about ourselves and our experience. My experience, other than watching Dr. Who as a kid, and a lot of other British TV, and talking with a bad British accent for fun, I have had no formal training.
We start to warm up our bodies and voices. Pretty tame stuff after Clown. Then we start talking about the differences between Standard British or RP (Received Pronunciation) and Generalized American. The teacher says some words, we repeat. We talk about vowels, and diphthongs, and consonants.
We move on to saying short sentences constructed more for their ability to emphasize a particular sound than to make sense. An example: Barbara was very barbaric, very very barbaric indeed. And my favorite phrase of the night: Secretary for the Home Department. Secretary is said in only three syllables (actually more like 2 1/2) and you can make yourself sound like a very snooty BBC commentator pretty easily with that one.
It was like being in a foreign language class, but one where you actually understood the meaning, but couldn’t speak. The subtle vowel and consonant shifts confounded most of us, especially when reading, because our brain reads, and then our mouth want to say it the way we’ve always said it, not the way those crazy Brits do.
For instance they like to drop the “R” in words or minimize it. The phrase:
The firemen at work saw the fire first by the far door, sounds like:
The fiah-mun et wehk sawr the fi-uh fust by the fah doh.
We Americans like to say “er” Figh-er (Fire). The Brits speaking RP say, Fi-uh.
This is how we spent most of the time, going over these sentences and individual words and practicing saying them. Later we will end up doing a monologue and a some scenes together. We are supposed to learn Standard Britsh, and Cockney, and then hopefully a third accent probably Irish, but I wouldn’t mine American Southern. Just because it is in this country doesn’t mean I know how to talk like that.