Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Good voice for TV.

After posting an extra long rant to my online book club about a book I really didn't like, I popped in to my favorite non-celebrity-stranger's blog to unwind and found a cute quiz on accents. I "don't have an accent".

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The West
North Central
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Naturally, I do have an accent. But our media cultivates their voice talent from the Midwest so I match the broadcast norm, meaning that most people who watch the news will think I speak normally, even if it's different from them. For the record, my parents are from Illinois but lived in Texas, Monterrey CA, and northwoods NH before having my brother and I and eventually winding up in MN where kids play "Duck, Duck, Grey Duck", not "Duck, Duck, Goose" as we'd learned during our brief stint in Illinois. (Which is pronounced /ill-ih-NOY/ for those who don't know. The 's' is silent. Really. I'm not trying to get you beat up on the playground. If I wanted to do that, I would expound more on the Duck game.)

There was one question in the quiz I found particularly interesting. Here's why!

I teach Cued Speech. It's a method of using hand shapes and placements while speaking (or mouthing speech) to clearly distinguish the meaningful speech sounds of consonants (hand shapes) and vowels (hand placement). It allows someone to "lipread" without guesswork. And it's pure genius, IMHO. It was developed by Dr. Cornett at Gallaudet to increase literacy among the Deaf by allowing them visual access to the phonics of spoken language and it works like no other method. It is just fantastically successful in this regard for the people who use it consistently. (See Cued Speech link in "Stuff what I do" sidebar.)

But within the Cued Speech community, as in all communities, there is bitter, bitter debate about a minor issue. Ours is whether an unstressed /ee/ is cued as the vowel sound /EE/ at the mouth or /i/ (/ih/) at the throat. A sound recording engineer and storyteller from my first class quit halfway through in disgust because he was adamant that the /ee/ is an /EE/ whether stressed or not, and the teacher was holding the party line that /ee/ is /i/, though she's flexible in private, it turns out. I'm on the sound engineer's side of that argument. I have sung in choruses for many, many years, and "ay" is /ah-ee/ not /ah-i/. I may not have known much of phonics, phonemes, or phonetics before this class, but I know my /ee/ is not an /i/. The overarching philosophy in Cued Speech is "cue what you say" so why there is such absolutism on the ee/ih issue, I have no idea.

I finally allowed myself to just "cue what I say" and to hell with the party line after I read this entry in my Webster's Collegiate Dictionary's pronunciation guide:
    "/ee/ in unstressed syllables, as in easy, mealy. Though the fact is not shown in this book, some dialects such as southern British and southern US often, if not usually, pronounce /i/ instead of unstressed /ee/."
And where was CS developed and researched and where is the highest concentration of users? Maryland. Where they do say /i/ for an unstressed /ee/ to the point where they can no longer hear /ee/ (this sort of thing happens, really). Why the arbiters of CS don't fuss about distinguishing Mary, merry, and marry if you don't distinguish them but will insist with their last breath that you have a cook-ih for desert, I just don't know.

But I do have a point. Which is that I'm right and /ee/ can be /EE/ OR /i/ depending on accent. The makers of this completely inconsequential internet quiz were hip to this /ee/ as /i/ enigma that many language professionals of my acquaintance flatly deny, in spite of being otherwise good and skilled people. And since I have *no accent* you should believe me and all other things you read off the internet. And pay no attention to the fact that I play fast and loose with phonetic transcription.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You do have an accent :) :)

But I have a friend from the twangy South and that really bothered me for about a minute the first time I talked to her on the phone. Just didn't fit the emails.