The Voice Cafe Blog

The Voice Cafe offers one-to-one online training via Skype as well as an Audio Study Zone, an access based audio learning resource and can be used either on its own, or as a supplement to online one-to-one lessons.

Parallel Effect - The effect of /r/ in the American Accent

Fairy or Ferry?

Ever wondered whether an American native speaker of the general American accent, said ‘Mary’, ’merry’ or ‘marry’? Or ‘fairy’ or ‘ferry’? Or if the first ‘a’ ‘parallel’ sounds more like and ‘e’ or even an ‘i’? Whichever phoneme it follows, the presence of the retroflex /r/ of the general American accent seems to have a dramatic raising effect on the vowel sounds it is next to.

How come?

The mid-tongue muscularity or ‘mid-tongue bunching’ in the general American accent’s voice placement combined with the retroflex /r/‘s pulling back of the tongue tip close to the hard palate and far back, often makes the open / half open front vowels /ɛ, æ, e/ sound more similar to one another than they would if not followed with an 'r'. A syllable final /r/ also raises the half open/ open back vowels /ɔ, ɒ, ɑ/ to a higher position than they’d normally be. Therefore if you are learning the GenAm accent, developing your articulation of /r/ is not only important in itself, but also because it has a dramatic ‘r-colouring’ on vowels adjacent to it, particularly before it in sequence. And therefore affects the voice placement, or oral posture of the accent.

Fine line

If you are learning the general American accent, never under-estimate how strong the /r/ needs to be, though there is a fine line between getting it strong enough and overdoing it. It is more enhanced in strong syllables (like ‘torn, learn’) and less enhanced in weak syllables (like in ‘forever, percent’ ). Click here to listen to some examples and see what you think.

Practice makes perfect

Practise /r/ for the perfect General American Accent  Click here to listen and practice with native speakers

The last thing you want to be consciously thinking about in an audition is your accent, you want to focus on your acting! So that’s it. Practice makes perfect!! :)