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What To List As US Dialects You Perform – And What Not To List

Hey, there!

Casting directors can smell fear, desperation, lying and newbie-ness.

And one of the smelliest places on a resume is the Accents and Dialects area.

I shudder sometimes at what I see (and hear) – so let’s get that area squared away, and your resume nice and spiffy, shall we?

I can always tell when someone really knows their accents and dialects, not only by their obvious performance ability in demos, but simply by the way they describe them.

As an example, if someone says they do a Southern accent, or a New York accent, I’m immediately suspect. There are several broad Southern accents, each with their own particular oddities. And someone from a specific place in the South can tell immediately if you’re a local – or if you’re from some other Southern area. Same thing with the NY metro area.

A Texan from Dallas is going to sound different than someone from Georgia, or someone from the Carolinas.

Likewise, there is not just one Joe Pesci-like New York accent, but rather very clear differences between a Bronx, Brooklyn, and Long Island accent (among many others).

And our goal with accents and dialects is to be able to get as close to native as possible. Not only in performance, but in calling those dialects by accurate names. Believe me, when writers start writing in dialect, they are very specific about what they want.

Luckily, a whip-smart college professor, Robert Delaney from the CW Post Campus of Long Island University, has given us some manageable guidelines, and I suggest that you review his work, see if you’re really capable of being indistinguishable from a local, and then, most importantly, placing these very specific names of dialects on your resume.

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[Click on the map to see it full size in a new window]

In addition to city-specific accents (Pittsburgh is a great example, as is the East Los Angeles Latino accent mentioned by Kat Negrete in the comments below), and the completely non-accented General American accent, here is a quick list of the dialects Delaney notes are most common, working our way across the map:

General Northern
Northern New England
Eastern New England
Boston Urban
(Boston) Central City Area
Western New England
Hudson Valley
New York City
Brooklyn
Bonac (Long Island)
Inland Northern
San Francisco Urban
Upper Midwestern
Minnewegian
Chicago Urban
North Midland
Pennsylvania German-English
Rocky Mountain
Pacific Northwest
Chinook Jargon
Alaska
Pacific Southwest
Southwestern
Hawaii (not shown)
General Southern
South Midland
Ozark
Southern Appalachian
Virginia Piedmont
Coastal Southern
Gullah
Gulf Southern
Louisiana: Cajun French
Louisiana: Cajun English
Louisiana: Yat
Louisiana: French Creole

Here’s the full article, called the Dialect Map of American English, on Robert’s site so you can really dig deep.

This is exactly why I exhort you in class to avoid accent reduction, to own your heritage, and use it to your advantage when acting on-camera or on-mic. Obviously, if you’re from a particular area, you’re going to have a distinct advantage in performing that dialect – but if you’re not, be aware that auditioning for dialects you really don’t know that well can be annoying at the least, and red-lining at worst for a VO casting director to endure.

So – ONLY PUT ON YOUR RESUME DIALECTS YOU REALLY KNOW AND PERFORM WELL. And be specific, not general, about those dialects’ names – even if the CD isn’t familiar with them. It gives you something to talk about.

Hope this helps.

David

8 Responses to What To List As US Dialects You Perform – And What Not To List

  1. k December 4, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    This ROCKS! I’m forever telling my AMP Subs clients to be sure that their “special skills” are college level or above. This feeds RIGHT into that – you’ve got to be spot-on regarding what you can and can’t deliver.

    As a gal originally from Texas, I have a southern accent, though since I grew up in Dallas surrounded by middle class white folks, I sound completely different than the people from South Dallas, even! And when I do my “real” southern accent, I sound like I’m from loo-zee-ann-uh! :)

  2. Drew McAuliffe December 4, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    David,

    Thanks again for another interesting tidbit. It’s definitely something I’ve always wondered about: which dialects to list, and how specific to get.

    One thing I did want to say is that I think that there are some GLARING issues from Mr. Delaney’s classification system that make me call into question its accuracy and usefulness.

    There are two specific issues I have, based on my own experience:

    1. I spent 14 years living in San Francisco and never heard much of anything that sounded like a New York accent, as he described in his “San Francisco Urban” dialect. Except from former New Yorkers. Most of the locals spoke with a relatively neutral, generic “California” accent. This might be my own limited experience, but that’s what I heard, and I like to think I have a decent ear for dialect; I’m always sensitive to it thanks to my own upbringing.

    2. I grew up in the Philadelphia area, which has a very, very specific dialect. It shares many similarities to the Baltimore dialect, and both are at least as distinctive as the regional New York dialects. To lump that all together into a broad category of “Pennsylvania German-English” is to completely ignore the particulars of those dialects, which are very hard for non-locals to replicate. Also, German is only one influence on the area: the city has been strongly influenced by a wide variety of immigrant populations over the years, with the resultant effect on dialect. (Random fact: the city of Philadelphia’s official colors are the colors of Sweden, reflecting its usually-forgotten Swedish heritage). And I don’t think I ever once heard anyone, in my life, say “throw your father out the window with his hat”, “fasnacht”, “sinkers”, “fatcakes”, etc.

    Simply put, I think Mr Delaney is painting the dialect map with a rather broad, inaccurate brush, and ignoring two of the more populous regions on the East Coast and their unique dialects in the process.

    Just thought I’d share, :)
    Drew

    • David H. Lawrence XVII December 4, 2013 at 10:39 am #

      I had similar thoughts when I compared his chart to my own childhood in Cleveland – and I’ve spent time in Baltimore, Philly, Pittsburgh and parts of Virginia where there are real idiosyncratic pockets.

      But I do think in terms of leveling, he was going for a manageable number of dialects to identify without drilling so far down into localisms as to not be useful.

      I’m sure you’d agree that, for the most part, someone who lives along the Main Line has a different approach to language than someone from Center City or South Philly, and that things get even stranger when you cross over into Southern Jersey. The list would fairly endless, and at least this approach doesn’t leave the actor or VO client adrift in generalities.

      If anything, this gives you even more to talk about with the CD who asks, “Where are you from?”

      David

  3. Kat Negrete December 4, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    What about East LA Latino dialect?

    • David H. Lawrence XVII December 4, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

      I agree, especially with the kinds of procedurals and other shows that often write that kind of character and voice. This is meant to be a starting point – add appropriate and industry specific accents and dialects where you think they’ll be useful.

  4. Kila December 4, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    LOL, Kat – even that can vary from block to block!

    I dont think I ever bothered to list accents regionally since everyone here in L.A. seemed to always use that same Southern modge-podge. ( a pet peeve of mine; I chose the ‘ignore and go with the flow’ route) Unless it was directly stated on a breakdown, Id inquire once I was called into the room. Time to update my resume!

  5. Doug Honorof January 21, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

    Very interesting article! Glad to see David’s warning that actors avoid marketing accents they can’t pull off credibly. As a dialect coach, I question the accents/dialects/languages section of every resume I see. On the other hand, I get work because actors misrepresent their skills and get cast because no one involved knows the difference, which leads to me having to come in and make the lie come true in production or post. I agree that misrepresentation does not help the actors’ reputations, though. If you can’t do an accent, you need to let the casting director know that you can’t, but that you are willing to work with a coach before a potential call-back. (These days many actors keep coaches on retainer specifically for last-minute web-conference-based audition coaching.)

    David ma be right about what many casting directors need to see on a resume, but I can say that, when I am involved in casting (as a consultant or as a director), I do not actually care how the actors word the dialects on their resumes because I don’t believe them, anyway. The problem is — and Delaney’s map is a case-in-point — almost everything most people in the business think they know about accents is based in stereotype, prejudice, bias and urban legend. I have a quibble with at least half the designations in Delaney’s list, with the curves drawn on the map and with the idea of a map to begin with. Just take Brooklyn, for starters. Delaney does not seem to mean Spanish-accented English from Bushwick, but that is Brooklyn. Even then, we would have to distinguish among Puerto Rican, Domincan, Mexican or Salvadoran flavors of English from Bushwick (if, in fact, Bushwick enters into the equation at all). What about African-American sounds from Bed-Stuy? If so, of what generation or group identity? We might have to distinguish, also, between the way the person from Bed-Stuy talks at work and at home. Delaney may mean something more like Bensonhurst, but why group together under “Brooklynese” typically Italian and Jewish varieties of Bensonhurstese (not to mention Cantonese, Russian, etc.)? The list goes on; Brooklyn is a big borough. The fact is, accents rarely line up with geopolitical boundaries on a map. Social, ethnic and generational factors are much better predictors of accent in New York’s five boroughs. Everyone thinks they know how people speak where, but, actually, what we remember are voices and types. To make matters worse, many dialect maps are based on word geography, that is, where people say ‘pail’ versus ‘bucket’, for instance. Word geography may be something writers need to know, but it is irrelevant to accent and to actors who are usually handed a script.

    What I really care about is that an actor knows how to learn accents. There is a discovery procedure involved. If an actor has that talent and training, I know the actor can pick up an accent in a few days with the help of a coach no matter what the accent is. (Not to say that some accents are not harder for some people to learn.) In an enlightened world, actors who had learned to do dialect work could just write, “Very good at dialects” on their resumes. However, as it is now, casting directors might actually be looking for the word “Southern” simply because it is assumed that an actor who can do a particular accent from Memphis can fake a particular accent from Central Texas convincingly, for instance, or that that no one really cares about the specifics. However, as David points out, writers may indeed care about the dialect specificity, and making the writers happy is very important for TV work. From my perspective, every dialect job requires specific research because dialect work is part of character work.

  6. Stephen C Swenson June 8, 2016 at 6:35 am #

    I once had a phone conversation with an experienced casting director who asked me “What part of Minnesota are you from?” WHAT?! I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest since I was 13 without anyone even knowing my background. She didn’t ask what part of the Midwest I was from, but Minnesota specifically. I had to laugh at the listing of “Minnewegian” above. Just in case you’re wondering – No, I’m not adding that dialect listing to my resume.

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