Hollywood and Speech-Language Pathology


It’s that time of year again! Oscar weekend! The various accents actors/actresses can produce can make or break their character’s success. And who can actors turn to for accent modification? Yep, Speech-Language Pathologists! Behind the scenes, coaching can be used to target 1 or 2 specific sounds (phonemes, remember those from my last post?) in a particular language. By modifying the way those couple of sounds are produced by the actor, a different accent can be formed. An array of people from medical professionals to businesspeople may also want to seek accent reduction therapy to improve their communication skills.

Prior to therapy, an evaluation is done on the current state of speech, looking at the person‘s sound pronunciation and the stress, rhythm, and intonation of speech they use. According to ASHA, SLPs might choose to evaluate by having the client read words, sentences, and paragraphs, and will listen to your conversational speech. Sometimes an accent will appear stronger in one of these scenarios than the others so it is important to observe all of them.

I’ve always found accents to be interesting. It is important to note that accents are speech DIFFERENCES and should not be considered speech or language DISORDERS.  ASHA’s definition of an accent is “the unique way that speech is pronounced by a group of people speaking the same language.” Therefore, everyone speaks with an accent. You may not think you have one if you speak in a similar manner to those around you, but in the end that’s what makes it an accent.

Accents are typically categorized one of two ways. The first is regional accents. For example, someone from Boston, Massachusetts will pronounce things differently than someone from Florida.  Same goes for people in Queens and Long Island. Even though they may live within an hour of each other, they can sound considerably different. The second is foreign accents. A person raised speaking English will sound different than someone who was raised speaking Italian and learned English as an adult, or even in late childhood.  

So the next time you watch a movie, pay attention to the accents. Does the actor sound much different than they would if doing an interview out of character?  Enjoy the Oscars this Sunday!

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