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“Can you drop the Indian accent?” – Accents and voice overs

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Recently, I did a voice over in Jakarta for an ad pitch. They were looking for a middle-aged woman with a North American accent who could speak with warmth, like a mother to her growing child. Now…

Where the deed was done!

Where the deed was done!

  • I’m indeed a ‘native’ English speaker
  • I’m certainly from North America  (yes the Canadian prairies count!)
  • I’m quite happily in my 40s so the right ‘age’ (more or less)

However… I don’t exactly have what you would call a typical ‘Canadian’ accent any more. Truth be told after a decade plus in India, it has more than just a tinge of an Indian lilt.

So given just how Indianized my accent has become, it was no surprise that my friend who arranged the voice recording begged me “Can you please drop your Indian accent?”

Apparently I succeeded in reclaiming my ‘home and native land’ accent. We were able to ‘nail’ the recording in only 5 takes – including options for the client to consider.

Now I’m not a professional at doing voice recordings, so it was an amusing experience however it did prompt me to think about how our accents adapt to our environment.

Voice recording - take one! (Looks more like I'm conducting)

Take one! (Looks more like I’m conducting)

My partner is an actor, so learning how to shift character, voice, accent and just about everything is his job. And he’s a master at it. He recently finished an Indo-Australian film based on the story of an Anglo-Indian who lived in Australia for 20+ years coming back to India hoping to marry an Anglo-Indian woman in Chennai…

I’ve seen him spend hours absorbing the rhythm of an accent, practicing to reproduce the right sounds – in this case still Indian but also coloured by decades in Australia. While the film has yet to be officially released, in a preview, several Australians involved in the project remarked on how accurately he managed to capture the right blended accent.

Recording Studio, Jakarta

Recording Studio, Jakarta

In Winnipeg, my parent’s neighbours (and dear friends for 30 years) have an interesting background. The wife is originally from Mumbai (Sindhi) and her husband is from Newfoundland. Anyone familiar with a ‘Newfie’ accent knows its distinctive nuances. As for the wife, after 40+ years in Canada she has adapted to her style of speaking and accent melded into a predominantly Canadian one.

What amuses my family to no end is that when we get together, that familiar sing-song lilt of an Indian accent, the shift in pronouncing Ds and Rs just happens. She can’t help it and neither can I. We have India in common… and our accents reflect this when we speak – especially when we get animated about something.

For my part, I’m aware my accent unconsciously shifts. When I’m around people with a more international or North American accent, it will naturally gravitate to a stronger Canadian accent. However back in India or even here in Indonesia with my Indonesian colleagues, it firmly reflects the flavour of my adopted home India. Some think its ‘cute’ and some that it is ‘affected.’ It is tough to consciously control.

Anyone else have a blended accent that shifts with your environment?

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  1. So many languages, so many accents…. I truly don’t know anymore what I sound like when I’m/wherever with whoever… I think I just adapt 😉

    • Haha! Suspect you do 🙂 I think its natural and an affliction for us ‘global citizens’!

      • Absolutely. We’re terminally contaminated…
        Do you speak Hindi/Marathi(?), btw?

        • Hindi mostly… That’s the language I’m most comfortable in and find it has supplanted my earlier French from Europe / Canada days. Strangely, can understand more Bengali than Marathi (however do get the gist) as I used to live with a Bengali family in 95 and my ex speaks Bengali as fluently as Hindi. However I’ve never lived in Bengal – go figure!

          • I guess most people will speak Hindi, so that must be the most useful… it’s all good fun 🙂

            • It is! I love that extra insight into life in India that comes with being comfortable in at least one language – It open a much richer perspective and insight. Which is why Jakarta is a new challenge. Unfortunately, I’ve just not been disciplined enough to spend even 10 minutes a day learning a couple new words or phrases and then using them. That was the goal I set myself and have been abysmal in following through! 😦

            • LOL! Written Indonesian looks formidable…
              I couldn’t imagine living somewhere and not speaking the language. I’m talking long-term, not a stay of a few weeks/months

            • This is an ‘in-between’ type scenario. Haven’t really ‘moved’ to Indonesia however working on a project there off and on for a couple of months. Initially looked like would be on the ground more and finished in Nov. Now looks like will be there a week (or so) every month until February. Enough to be a linguistic teaser! 🙂

            • I know this is a short-ish term project … nice to have such a varied work life!

  2. JoV says:

    I am that sort of person too. I gravitate my accent around the person that I speak to…. This is an interesting observation. 🙂

    • I really can’t help it… takes effort to consciously not ‘gravitate’ to the accent of the person I’m speaking with! It can be misconstrued as being ‘put on’ when, honestly, after a decade+ in a country one is bound to pick up more than a ‘hint’ of an accent of the environment one lives in! 🙂

  3. ottominuti says:

    I loved this post! I am obsessed with accents and could spend nights talking of nuances and regional sounds! As you, I tend to adapt very quickly to the person I am talking to. My Italian is neuter but, given the right setting, it can adopt regional nuances very quickly. My spoken English sounds American but if surrounded by Brit, I instinctively close all the vocals:-) my French sounds Belgian to the French and southern French to the Belgians… Go figure!! In German, I sound totally French and in Spanish South American…:-) I love these things and I am known to bother people all the time trying to dissect their own pronunciation and accent. I think it tells more of people than looks and speeches .

    • I think my English would be an interesting ‘case study’ for your ‘dissection’ of pronunciation and accent. 🙂

      And when you described your experiences, could just picture animated discussions with a variety of nationalities switching gears from one style to another! No doubt not just accent but hand gestures, even slight shifts in facial expressions to the language and region.

      I find this all quite fascinating and its a bit of a weakness tuning into patterns and trying to tease out the origin. Naturally, I’m terrible at guessing however do have fun trying!

  4. gkm2011 says:

    Great post! My accent and also choice of words – the “queue” is terrible today will really change. I remember going home for Christmas one year and my sister berating me for not pronouncing words appropriately. I seem to remember we got into a long discussion about the word “mango.” Love the post!

  5. It was a ‘pitch’ so not the official ad.. however if I’m invited to go back and do the voice over for the ‘real’ ad, happy to link once its out! 🙂

  6. James says:

    That was a heartwarming read, Carissa! I’m an accent chameleon as well – having spent four and a half years in England, I find myself (involuntarily) shifting to a much heavier English accent when I speak to people from there. There was one time I met someone with a stereotypically French accent, and before I knew it his speech had rubbed off on me. Then he said with a straight face, “Sometimes I have a problem understanding ze Breeteesh, but wiz you, I understand you PUH-fectly!”

  7. sarahinguangzhou says:

    The whole accent thing is fascinating. We all adapt to our audience I think; it’s part of wanting to ‘fit in’ with the people around us and it’s an unconscious thing.
    I used to have a strong London accent, which I was determined not to change. Since I’ve come back to London everyone says ‘oh you don’t sound like a Londoner’.

    • Quite true! So… if you don’t ‘sound’ like a Londoner anymore, what are the most common alternatives offered?

      I’ve had folks do guessing games with mine and come up with the most absurd options that couldn’t remotely be possible with my background and travels… but its what they ‘hear’ when I speak.

      I loved Ottominuti’s comment on how her accent is perceived by people of different backgrounds!

  8. Katherine says:

    Very Interesting, If it had been video I imagine you would have had to drop a lot of mannerisms too! (ie. tilting your head back and forth?)
    I had the same experience picking up the Indian accent, and after living in Vancouver for two years, I gave my family a good laugh when I couldn’t drop the ‘eh’. What’s funny is when it happened in Spanish. Anyone who hears me speak know what region of Ecuador I’m ‘from’. And I would actually make an effort to shift my cadence if I was on the coast or in the mountains.

  9. Somnath Sen says:


    Same to same. Or as they say in the US, same difference.

    Funnily enough, my family too would be amused when you and got into animated conversations back in 1995 and my American accent would creep in. Nandan (remember him?) would say he couldn’t understand a word except for the pronouns.

    That same Nandan has now been living in Canada for the last 13 years and speaks like a native Missisaugan (mostly North American with just the hint of a desi lilt 🙂

    Go figure.

    • OMG you are taking me back!!

      And yes you did have more than a little “LA” in your accent when you came home after your stint there. I didn’t know Nandan is in Mississauga now – how cool is that?

      Can I just say – sooooo delighted you’ve decided to grace my wee blog with a comment. You do know you are the origin of all things that changed the course of my life forever living with your family for a year???

      I’m back in Bby for a bit – a catch up live and in person is overdue!! Huuge hugs til then!

  10. The Polyglut says:

    I have lived in central England my entire life, and still I can relate to your far more international experience. I was born in Birmingham, famed for its strong accent, but have since moved to various places around it and have lost any accent that I ever had. Having said that, there are certain words that still have that accented twist, particularly when I am around people who still live there. It seems so strange (and yet so obvious) that accents shift so easily. An intriguing post 🙂

    • Shifts in accents is fascinating and its seems many share the phenomenon of a more pronounced shift based on the context ie the accent or environment in which one is speaking. I’ve been enjoying reading your linguistic adventures and thanks so much for sharing your insights!

  11. Love your post! Living in Japan, my final consonants became really emphasized and I haven’t lost it. Sometimes I make completely odd pronunciation seemingly out of nowhere. I’ve lost the “nnn” response (instead of mmm hmmm) but it comes right back in Japan.

    • Haha! I’m glad I’m not the only one with a funky accent and shifting little conversational idiosyncracies specific to a different part of the world than the land of my birth!

      • It’s so easy to do! I can’t remember if it was this post or another but I think you mentioned about the wrong language popping up? This happened to me in Finland *during* my Finnish final exam. The *only* language continually intruding my frazzled brain was French! I was also confused at home because my roommate’s English wasn’t great but she spoke German and my German was passable. Aaaaaa!

        • Haha! Yup – Hindi keeps poking its nose in every time I try to speak French! 🙂 I can just imagine what a jumble it all was for you with 4+ languages bouncing around in your head!

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