Sometime in 1978, my mother sought the services of a Mr Uisdean F Murray MBE, LLCM – a wise, kind gentleman who was the elocution teacher to the slack voweled Glaswegian children of the day. He sadly passed on many years ago, but Mr Murray was without doubt one of the most influential figures in my life. For the princely sum of a pound a week, I was immersed into lessons, poetry, drama and theory of Elocution (Speech & Drama). We shot through the LCM Speech and Drama examinations and even now as a broadcaster with 24 years experience in voice overs, every single technique I use today is thanks to that £1 a week invested by my parents. Today as a tutor following in his carefully positioned footsteps, it never ceases to amaze me the many journeys that simple £1 stake has taken me along the years.
This week it took me to Gibraltar. I was asked to travel over for a two day voice training session for a company based there. What began as a relatively straightforward session looking at articulation and expression, took the most interesting turn when I discovered the delights of the unique Gibraltarian accent.
Due to its proximity to Spain and its exposure in particular to Andalusian Spanish, English and Genoese; the Gibraltarian English accent reflects this exceptional cultural and geographical melting pot. With a thriving ExPat community, there is a strong desire to soften this accent in favour of a more generic English one. I am a lover of accents, however, when anyone dips a toe into the voice over industry , having the ability to soften or accentuate one’s own accent upon direction makes for a more successful and versatile performer. And that was my brief.
My first exposure to this complex accent and approach to softening can be drilled down to four main areas of attention – shortened/clipped vowel sounds, repeated use of upward inflection, the substitution of æ for ə in the final position in non rhotic words and the omission of /t/ in the final position.
During careful study, I became aware there was a pattern where long monopthongs like ɜ: as in beard or word were being shortened resulting in a more staccato delivery. Tonal production excercises helped improve and create awareness in the student.
Correct use of inflection
The upward inflection should only be used if the speaker is asking a question; is doutful; creating a dramatic suspense or itemising a list (with the last item inflected downwards). Perhaps this rising inflection is a reflection of exposure to the many languages spoken and heard in Gibraltar, it is common to hear statement of facts delivered with an upward inflection for example. Any good Speech and Drama teacher will have bags of vocal exercises to work on improving vocal inflection – which is what we did.
As a Scot, I naturally have a rhotic accent – basically we pronounce the r sound when it follows a vowel. ButteR, mutteR, flutteR etc. The English accent is non rhotic – the r in these words are substituted with the schwa , the neutral vowel ə. The mouth is in a neutral position and the sound is like a short explosion of breath – it’s a subtle /uh/. In the Gibraltarian accent in these words this ə is substituted with the more exaggerated æ and butt-uh sounds like butt- AH, mutt-AH etc. We looked at word lists and vocal exercises to help restore the schwa.
Omission of t in the final position
The final fourth main area of interest was the omission of /t/ in the final position – float became flow; moat – mow and so on. I was told this might reflect Andalusian and once again, a vocal reflection of the cultural diversity in this wonderful 3 square miles could be heard. Creating an awareness in the student and repeated exercises using words and phrases with /t/ in the final position were prescribed and through time and attention will help.
There are many more nuances heard in this wonderful accent, but my initial approach to begin to soften it is to pay attention to these main areas. I’m intrigued now – I admit , I’ve listened to hours and hours of this accent online since arriving home. It’s piqued my interest.
Sitting on the Rock this week and looking at the shadow of Africa in the distance, I though of Mr Murray and thanked him again and my hard working parents – I owe a lot to their £1 weekly investment.
#Gib #Gibraltar #Accent #AccentSoftening