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This post is in fact two articles I once tried to contribute to an English-language newspaper intended solely for Chinese learners of English, run by China Daily. But its editors showed no interest in them, so I have put them here. That is why they were originally written with a Chinese audience in mind.|
--- The following are mostly my personal views ---
As you have probably noticed but never wondered about, native speakers of English do not have the same kind of voice as we Chinese.
An analogy will make my point clearer. Women and men have different voices; more precisely speaking, these two groups of people have two distinct types of voices, i.e., female voices and male ones. Similarly, native English-speakers have voices that differ collectively from those of us Chinese.
Here is an example. The Canadian 大山 is quite well-known here in China. His pronunciation of Mandarin is so strictly standard that to say it is no worse than that of many Chinese TV hosts would not be an overestimate. Yet if we shut our eyes and listen to him, we can still gather without difficulty that it is a foreigner who is speaking Chinese, albeit impossibly well. There is no difficulty, because his voice, sounding indeed unfamiliar to our native ears, is evidently not that of a Chinese. A Canadian, he has the voice of a native speaker of North American English, and it is still in this foreign voice that he speaks Chinese.
Broadcasters at CCTV-9 (CCTV's English-language channel), some Chinese and some British or American, are another example. Their voices, alone, suffice to divide them into two groups, Chinese and native speakers of English.
Both instances above are very natural. Learners of a foreign language who try to speak it like a native will of course take a lot of effort to imitate its isolated speech sounds, intonation, and rhythm, but who will think that it matters whether or not their voices are like those of the native speakers? After all, even a man and his brother, speaking the same language with the same accent, always have conspicuously different voices.
Very little, therefore, do we pay attention to the difference in voice between native speakers of Chinese and those of English, or more concisely, between the languages of Chinese and English. In fact different accents of the same language can produce different voice types too. British people with an RP accent, for example, do not have the same kind of voice as the Americans. (The term RP is short for Received Pronunciation. What Chinese learners of English call the British accent is referred to in Britain as BBC English or, more formally and exactly, as RP.)
Perceiving difference in voice between different languages or accents is a result of the act of comparison. But seldom does comparison result only in seeing some difference: we may also find that we like some of the things compared more than the others. More about that is to come in part (2).
--- The author's email address: firstname.lastname@example.org ---
--- The following are mostly my personal views ---
Although most people's voices are commonplace enough not to catch our attention, sometimes we do find someone's voice quite good. The voices of some male BBC broadcasters or English actors have appealed to me a great deal. They are all speakers of RP. Back in my high school years, I enjoyed listening to the BBC World Service in spite of not being able to understand much, not least because I liked the voices of some of its broadcasters.
Voices of American men, however, have not had the same effects on me, although I have listened to so many of them either through watching Hollywood films that have been culturally bombarding China for almost two decades, or through face-to-face contact with Americans. An interesting comparison I once made was between the voice of the US president, Gorge W. Bush, and that of the British prime minister, Tony Blair, a speaker of RP, as are all British politicians. Personally, I think that Tony Blair's voice, though not really attractive to me, sounds the better, at least not as dry as Bush's. Here, by a dry voice, I don't mean one that has no emotion, but one the pitch of which is both relatively low and within a relatively narrow range.
In a book on English pronunciation by the British linguist A. C. Gimson, voices of RP speakers are said to be mellow. That's true with many male broadcasters heard on the BBC World Service, and with some British actors. Among these actors is Ralph Fiennes, who once provided the voice of Rameses in the animated film The Prince of Egypt. His voice, especially in that film, sounds metallic and mellow, as if part of it were produced from a brass instrument. I very much like it.
Yet many British RP-speaking actors' voices are not mellow. A good example is Jeremy Irons, a man extremely well-spoken, with a unique, creaky voice that has magnetized a great many people in English speaking countries. It is said that the film in which he made the best use of his voice is Disney's animated hit The Lion King, where he lent his voice to the villainous Scar, creating what many people, including myself, enjoy the most about this film. Immensely as I like his voice, I do not know how to describe it. This reminds me of chocolate: I love it, but I have no idea whatsoever about how to describe its taste.
Curiously, no voices of British female RP speakers have attracted me as have those of the male RP speakers mentioned above. Neither have the voices of native English-speaking women with other accents.
So I have the opinion that the sounds of RP are articulated in a way that is quite helpful to produce an attractive voice in male native speakers of it.
Or is it only a subjective conclusion based on my personal preference? I do not know.
A closely related opinion of mine which I believe is more interesting to us Chinese than the one above, is this: that the sounds of Chinese are articulated in a way that is quite helpful to produce an attractive voice in female native speakers of it.
[ Last edited by szswings at 2007-5-18 06:05 PM ]