Thanks for this, Reddit! And thanks to everyone who's watched the video. We had a ton of fun making it. And a huge thanks to Joe Sabia and the team at Wired, who are the entire reason this video is so entertaining and interesting! Til next time, bye all!

Hello again, reddit! I'm a dialect and language coach for film, television & theatre productions, and a voice, speech, and text teacher. I'm also an actor (though mostly just v/o these days). From 2010 to 2013 I was the Associate Editor for the "Pronunciation, Phonetics, Linguistics, Dialect/Accent Studies" section of the Voice and Speech Review, the peer-reviewed journal of the profession. More information at http://www.eriksinger.com.

Watch my new video on WIRED: https://youtu.be/oa6cHEJIjYI

Watch me break down 32 actor's accents: https://youtu.be/NvDvESEXcgE

Proof:http://imgur.com/a/oSDxM

Comments: 189 • Responses: 52  • Date: 

potato_ships34 karma

Is it pronounced tomato or tomato? Wait.....

Erik_Singer41 karma

Yes.

bitterclit24 karma

How many languages do you speak? Do you klingon to them easily?

Erik_Singer23 karma

Haha! A few, it sort of depends on how you count them and how long it's been since I last had a conversation in them.

RespectTheDuke24 karma

Has an actor or an actress ever struggled so much with a convincing accent/ other language that they had to be fired?

Erik_Singer27 karma

Yup.

satisfiedbuzzard22 karma

What are your favorite books on linguistics?

Erik_Singer36 karma

Oh, boy, way too many to list. A smattering: all of John McWhorter's books, JC Catford's A Practical Introduction to Phonetics, John Wells' Accents of English, anything by David Crystal, Ladefoged and Maddieson's The Sounds of the World's Languages and Vowels and Consonants, Arika Okrent's In the Land of Invented Languages, Linda Shockey's Sounds Patterns of Spoken English.

soulinashoe7 karma

What's a good one for beginners?

Erik_Singer7 karma

What's your main interest? Linguistics is a big field. McWhorter and Crystal both have a lot of books for non-specialists.

samschampions18 karma

Erik! do you know what language or blend of languages the Minions speak?

Erik_Singer30 karma

Sounds pretty Romance-y to me. I hear a lot of Italian and Spanish words. I'd imagine it's pretty much made up as they go, though.

groceryliszt17 karma

HAs there ever been an attempt for a conlang to have ALL sounds from ALL natural languages? a so called "grand unified conlang of everything"? is that possible? i mean u agree that'd be sick right

Erik_Singer26 karma

I've played around with that a little, actually. It's theoretically possible to make one like that (and yes, it would definitely be sick), but it would be a huge challenge to actually speak it, cause you'd be playing the whole length of the vocal tract all the time, and switching airflow from ingressive to egressive, etc. I use something like this as a teaching tool, but it's wholly improvisational, not written down or fixed at all. We call it Omnish, and it's a basic of actor-training in Knight-Thompson Speechwork.

spinaltap54017 karma

Are there any conlangs that could pass as natural languages?

Erik_Singer20 karma

Great question. (Which I'm not really qualified to answer!) The conlangers out there, both famous and obscure, aim for this. Natural languages have all kinds of weirdness, inconsistency, strange insistences on grammatically specifying particular things. Conlangs try to build this in.

YourFavoriteAuD15 karma

Erik! Huge fan of your last video. I find accents to be such a fascinating part of human language.

Question: What do you think is the best example of a movie/TV accent gone wrong? Are there certain actors/actresses who you simply can't watch because they consistently miss the mark?

Erik_Singer20 karma

Thanks! I'm not actually wild about answering this question. It's usually not the actor's fault when an accent goes wildly wrong (or not solely so). As to the second part, there are a few actors who I've never really seen do good accent work, but I can't say that that means they're not capable of it, given the right support.

LandisMan14 karma

Is there a particular accent that Americans try to imitate (poorly) that you would like to see done correctly? Any tips?

Erik_Singer19 karma

Welsh.

wiseam13 karma

Is there work for dialect coaches within the intelligence community? Training spies?

Erik_Singer34 karma

[aɪ kʰəd tɛɫ ju | bʌt ðɛn aɪd hæv tə kʰɪɫ ju ‖ ]

senseihedgehog11 karma

Erik! Do you sing? Both your job and your last name point to this.

Erik_Singer17 karma

Only in the shower.

DialectCoaches9 karma

If an actor is going to act while speaking a conlang, what's the process like for getting them to sound really natural?

Erik_Singer19 karma

So much goes into it. Doing an accent well isn't just about getting the sounds right—it has to be fully integrated into the character. Accent and language is fundamentally tied to identity—it's who we are, in a way. So it can't be just layered on top.

With a conlang, you've got to teach actors the sounds that don't exist in their native language, or course, and then drill them and drill them until they're deeply embedded in muscle memory. Then you start building up into words and into connected speech. You want to teach them the basics of the nuts and bolts of the language as well—word order and the way verbs work, etc.—so that they can know exactly what it is they're saying and how they're saying it. And then you have to work with them to really connect up the sounds and words themselves to their character and to what it is they're doing as an actor in a given scene or moment. I could go on, but that's the basic idea.

no_username_4me8 karma

which is the most unnatural/weird language you have come across and why it was such?

Erik_Singer22 karma

ǃXóõ has an insane number of different consonant sounds—upwards of 160 by most counts. There's an indigenous Australian language (I forget which one) in which you always have to specify which compass direction someone is facing, even when you're telling a story. Unsurprisingly, its speakers have an uncanny sense of direction! And then there are those languages that require you to specify things like how you know something—you saw it, heard it, felt it, heard it from someone else, and so on. It's a weird and wonderful world out there, folks. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio...

satisfiedbuzzard12 karma

The indigenous Austrailian language you're referring to is the Guugu Yimithirr language. I actually remember reading that there was another one as well that uses cardinal directions, but I can't find it at the moment.

edit: Okay found it. I was referring to the Kuuk Thaayorre language. Maybe it's the same language but different names.

Erik_Singer14 karma

Thanks! I think there's one in Southeast Asia somewhere, too, if I recall, totally unrelated.

NoxKira8 karma

What are your thoughts on Newspeak from 1984? How much does a language actually affect our thoughts?

Erik_Singer9 karma

Google Sapir-Whorf! The current consensus among linguists seems to be that the language affects the way you think and perceive the world a little bit, like, just around the edges. Makes sense to me.

tydalamb8 karma

What is your favorite conlang/fictional lang?

Erik_Singer16 karma

After getting familiar with them, I like all the ones we did, for different reasons. Sindarin sounds gorgeous. I adore ejectives, so Na'vi thrills me for that...

Constructed languages have been around for a long time, though before Tolkien the purpose was usually sort of Utopian—world peace, the perfect philosophical language. I kind of admire the ridiculous ambition of John Wilkins attempt at a 'universal language', which would classify all concepts in existence and encode their relationships to each other! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Essay_towards_a_Real_Character_and_a_Philosophical_Language

Fistfulofshillings8 karma

What do you think of the welsh accent (more specifically Cardiff)?

Erik_Singer8 karma

Gorgeous.

neallynch7 karma

Which actor / actress (who's NOT from Boston) does the best Boston accent?

Erik_Singer8 karma

Hmmm. I'd have to think about that. Can you think of one?

Zarsla6 karma

Have you ever made a conlang before? If so what is it and what is it like? If not have/do you want to make one? And what if,anything, would or did infulence you?

Erik_Singer8 karma

I've messed around with two or three, though I wouldn't call any of them fully-formed, by any means. The main one I've worked on is the one I described earlier in this AMA—one that has nearly all of the sounds in it that exist in human languages (or as close as I can get). This is ridiculous for a conlang, b/c that's not how human languages work at all. And it would be impossible to teach an actor to speak. So it's kind of nuts. On the other end of the spectrum, I helped my so make up an Elvish language for a school project! He wanted it to sound really liquid and flowing, so it has no stops in it! (Sounds like p, t, k, b, d, g)

nomadicWiccan6 karma

Hello Erik, recently introduced to you via reddit, think you're a very funny guy.

Anywho, my question is "What was the process that led you to becoming a Dialect Coach, both what schooling you did and when you decided you wanted to do it?"

Erik_Singer4 karma

Thanks! I've answered that question somewhere else in this AMA.

bitterclit6 karma

What would you consider your favourite language to speak?

Erik_Singer14 karma

Man, sorry to keep answering this way, but I like different things about speaking different languages! I've been learning Mandarin, recently, and I'm falling in love with the tones. I adore Japanese, but I can't quite explain why. I've always loved the way Italian and Russian feel in my mouth...

wyetye6 karma

What's your favourite accent?

What's your least favourite?

Erik_Singer5 karma

Can't pick.

satisfiedbuzzard5 karma

Are there any reasons/theories why certain accents are seen as less intelligent or more intelligent? Is it completely cultural or are there just certain noises, pitches and tones that people prefer? Americans seem to see the British accent as intelligent and the "redneck" southern accent as stupid.

Since you said you study Chinese, my Chinese friends tell me that the Dongbei accent is seen as the same as tantamount to the "redneck" accent. Have you heard this?

Erik_Singer4 karma

COMPLETELY cultural. It's human to have biases about different speech sounds and accents (we're small group primates, after all), but it's also completely subjective. The judgements people have about different accents and language varieties are usually stand-ins for judgements they have about the people themselves.

I hadn't heard that about Dongbei. Thanks!

Marco_9615 karma

Would you say it's harder for people with speech impediments to learn new accents considering those people can't pronounce certain letters correctly (Myself included, I can't pronounce half the alphabet correctly). ?

Erik_Singer6 karma

Probably. But the mechanics are the same, whether you're working with disfluencies (speech 'impediments'), learning a new accent, or learning a language. Speech is just a series of connected physical actions. It's complicated, for sure, but each gesture can be broken down, described, and learned.

lygodesma5 karma

Love all your WIRED videos! Any tips for native english speakers for getting the guttural r sound (like in arabic and french) right?

Erik_Singer9 karma

French R sounds are usually realized as either a uvular fricative [ʁ] or a uvular approximant [ʁ̞]. Arabic languages have these realizations, too, but they also have some adjacent, and therefore quite similar sounds—pharyngeal (further back in the vocal tract) and velar (further forward) fricatives.

Try gargling. Then gargle with less liquid. Then just a tiny amount. Then none, just imagining you have some there. It can help to just tip your head back slightly. Then practice!

Pillens_burknerkorv5 karma

I've heard that people who stutter stop doing that if they change accents. Is there any truth to that?

Erik_Singer10 karma

I think it can help some people, yes, though I haven't ever worked with someone on it.

Thisisdansaccount4 karma

Hey, love your videos! What advice would you give to aspiring voice actors/narrators? I'm planning on getting into audiobook narration but have no formal acting experience. Thanks!

Erik_Singer6 karma

Get to a good class or get a good acting teacher! Voice acting is acting, first and foremost.

OaktownPirate4 karma

Have you been watching "The Expanse", and what do you think of lang Belta?

Erik_Singer8 karma

My friend and colleague, the brilliant Eric Armstrong, coaches The Expanse. I think it's super-cool.

ProlapsePotato3 karma

You probably know this, but in the new video when you were talking about Sindarin and showed a clip of "old Norse", it was from a sketch in which the actor was speaking in old timey Icelandic about getting laid. I can imagine it might be the best clip available though.

Anyway, questions! What is your favorite conlang? Would you be able to hold a conversation in any of them?

Erik_Singer3 karma

I didn't actually! The team at Wired actually sourced a lot of the clips. I was curious about that one! That's really funny.

Don't really have a favorite (I semi-answered this one earlier). No, I've never learned one! This was really the first time I've dug into them.

JonSmith18813 karma

Hey Erik!

Have loved all your videos so far and this one is no exception. I've been world building and am interested in constructing my own language but it seems daunting to start with an alphabet and then give sounds to those letters and then construct words with those letters and sounds, etc, etc. Has anyone ever given you step by step instructions on creating a language? Any advice?!

Erik_Singer14 karma

Absolutely! Check out David Peterson's The Art of Language Invention. (He's the creator of Dothraki and Valyrian, among other conlangs.) It's really well-written and accessible. Quick word of advice, though—don't start with an alphabet. Start with the phonology (the sounds system). You don't even need an alphabet or a script at all—most languages are only spoken. Writing is a pretty recent invention, in the grand scheme of things.

werderexpat3 karma

What part of a language do you think would be fun to leave out in a conlanguage? I.e get rid of all adjectives, or tenses, or not using the Genitive etc...

Erik_Singer7 karma

Well, I'm not a linguist, but it would be really cool to try to work out how you could make do without verbs. Someone's probably done it...

LanAkou3 karma

Which accents are most important for an actor to know?

Erik_Singer4 karma

Completely depends on the actor's casting. What are they likely to get called in for? I usually advise actors to try to figure out the top 3 accents they're likely to need and learn them NOW. The week or the day before the audition is too late! It takes time to learn an accent well and really own it.

LanAkou2 karma

Thanks! One quick follow up if you've got time, what's the best way to start practicing those 3 accents?

Erik_Singer4 karma

Work with a qualified coach!

thobek3 karma

there is a spicy debate going on from your latest youtube video about why you pronounce Maori that way. People are saying you used the English pronunciation of the word while speaking english so it was correct. Can you explain why you pronounced it this way? I'm from NZ, and this pops up a lot when talking about the correct pronunciation of place names etc.

Erik_Singer4 karma

Honestly, I didn't even think about it. That's really just the standard American pronunciation. I'm aware it's not the Maori pronunciation, and I can see how that would be a thing in NZ, especially given the history of discrimination (to put it mildly). Now that I've thought about it, I would do it differently, I think.

kokokoko113 karma

Okay, okay, okay, I finally made it early! Right, the question: you appear young, how long did it take you to learn all these different languages, their accents, dialects, and slangs? Did you give away your childhood to become some language superman..?

Erik_Singer2 karma

Haha! Well, I'm always learning. And it's the same as with any other field, I think—the more I learn, the more I realize just how much I don't know. No, I had a pretty ordinary childhood, but I was surrounded by a lot of different languages and accents, and it's always been an strong interest.

Erik_Singer6 karma

(Also, thanks for the 'young' thing.)

NotSoSiniSter3 karma

Do you have any tips to reduce mild mumbling / stuttering? I do both and in varying amounts and it can be quite frustrating / embarrassing in certain settings. Can speech coaches help a lot with this?

Erik_Singer2 karma

Yes, for sure, especially speech language pathologists, who specialize in working with these kinds of 'disfluencies.' There should be some in your area!

Voice and breath work can help some people, too, so you might consider that. There are a even a few SLPs who are also voice teachers!

RJturtle2 karma

What's your favourite British accent?

Erik_Singer6 karma

Can't choose. If we're talking UK, probably either Edinburgh, Belfast, or rural Southern Welsh. If we're talking just England, either Gloucestershire/Somerset, East Anglia (Broad Norfolk, probably), or SE London. Actually check that—I'm gonna go with Multi-Cultural London English (MLE).

BioCatPizza2 karma

How did the British accent turn into an American accent? Or was is vice versa? I read somewhere the British accent was actually created and spoken by English upper class after colonization.

Erik_Singer6 karma

That's basically right, though you have to keep in mind that all language varieties are constantly changing all the time (in your mouth! Right at this very moment!) John McWhorter compares language change to a lava lamp, or to shifting cloud patterns.

But one of the most significant features of Southeastern British English (certainly from an American perspective), is r-dropping. This started off as a fashionable thing to do for young cool upper-crust sorts around 1800—so after the Revolutionary War. Interestingly, it was deplored at the time by older speakers—an abominable affectation! But as always happens with language, it was the younger generation that determined the future of the language, and this innovation took hold.

coryrenton2 karma

What are the funniest sentences or phrases you use to have an actor cue into a specific accent?

coryrenton2 karma

which TV/movie accents did you think were off, but turned out to be delivered by someone native to that accent's area?

Erik_Singer2 karma

That's a great question. I'm sure it's happened, but I can't think of one off the top of my head. I'll come back to you if I remember one.

type_mismatch2 karma

If English is not my native language and I'm in my mid-20s, is it still possible to acquire a truly 'native' accent? Some people say that it's pretty much impossible once you hit puberty, is it actually so?

Erik_Singer4 karma

No, I don't think so. It's harder, but definitely not impossible.

nathattack2 karma

What's your favorite American accent?

Erik_Singer3 karma

Maybe Gullah? (Not just an accent—a bonafide dialect, but still.)

1775mike2 karma

What language/accent do you personally find sexiest?

Erik_Singer2 karma

Ha! Umm...anything spoken with conviction. And that has a palatal lateral approximate in it. ;)

Proxify2 karma

Late to the party but figured I could ask. What did you study? How did you become so proficient to detect different variations in language?

Erik_Singer2 karma

Answering this for you and the other people who've asked the same question! There's no one path to becoming a dialect coach, and certainly no 'official' one. The two main things you need to know and understand deeply, though, are acting & phonetics. One without the other won't do it. And then, of course, you have to be able to teach it. Our job is to support actors & stories, if we're not doing that, we're actively getting in the way. (I strongly advise anyone interested in becoming a dialect coach or speech/accent teacher to check out Knight-Thompson Speechwork and take a workshop, btw. I'm biased, because I teach it, but I don't think there's a better training out there. http://ktspeechwork.com/about-the-work/)

I grew up hearing lots of sounds and just was always interested in accents and languages. And so I played around with them a lot, which is, of course, how you get good at stuff!

bigsteve8921 karma

Hey Erik! I'm a huge fan of your videos. As someone who has a modest interest in accents, what resources would you recommend for an amateur to use to learn different accents? Books, Videos, series, etc.

Erik_Singer2 karma

Well, there's a lot out there, but not all of it is great. It's hard to strike a balance between technical accuracy and accessibility. You're probably better off learning phonetics and then just doing a ton of listening and mimicking.

One book I can recommend is How to Do Accents, by Jan Haydn Rowles and Edda Sharp. It's not really the way I usually approach teaching accents, but they know their stuff.

(And I teach webinars from time to time...)

IndigoPeach1 karma

Hey Erik, how does one get into your field of work/how much study did it take you to get to where you are now? (I'm an undergrad interested in linguistics) Love your vids by the way, it's so fascinating to hear from an expert on this sort of niche pop culture topic!

Erik_Singer1 karma

See elsewhere in the AMA! This is a popular one!

Luriven1 karma

Do you know from experience if an actor or actress with a very strong natural accent, such as Russian for example, is able to completely switch to a vastly different accent with enough practice and assistance? Or are some accents impossible to switch from?

Erik_Singer3 karma

Nah, I'd never say impossible. Yes, given time, dedication, and adequate support an enormous amount is possible.

blackwellbones1 karma

Maybe this is a question for a futurist, but as the world is more and more interconnected and globalized, do you ever see conlangs developing into our everyday? I'm thinking hybrids of, say, Chinese and English. In Firefly, for instance, the characters use (I think) Chinese swears - but taking it to the next level, imagine a hybrid Chinese-English that develops the way Swahili did... basically a trade language... possibly one that includes digital terms and sort of "language memes" that rise on places like Reddit.

Erik_Singer4 karma

Most of what you're talking about here is just another form of natural language development—not constructed languages. Languages that arise from the mixing of two or more different languages are called creoles. They often start as pidgins, which aren't full languages but are sort of rough and ready means of communication—usually just a collection of words borrowed from two different languages. By the second generation, though, you have a fully developed language—a creole.

Handsomeyellow471 karma

Hey Erik! Would you say that there's a distinct Candian accent at all?

Erik_Singer4 karma

Plenty of them!

idosillythings1 karma

What would you say is the hardest "common" language for native English speakers to learn?

I'm currently trying to learn Arabic and it's freaking tough.

Thanks!

Erik_Singer2 karma

I think it really depends a lot on the person. Languages are easier, all other things being equal, when you have a strong affinity for the people, place, or culture. And there are notoriously hard languages like Navajo or Pashto that are so irregular they're almost impossible to learn as an adult. But sound system wise, yes, Arabic is up there because of the number of sounds that aren't in English or other European languages. All tone languages, for sure. Any language with clicks or voiced implosives...