ACTRESS Lake Bell is on a mission to eradicate a pandemic ‘disease’: ‘sexy-baby’ voice.
‘Sexy-baby’ voice is the vacant-sounding, sexy and faux-coy way some women speak. Their every sentence ends in a question, ‘like you know?’
Bell says: “OK, small soap-box moment. I have been personally ruptured and unsettled by the trend, the vocal trend that I call ‘sexy-baby vocal virus talking’. It’s a pandemic, in my opinion.”
“It would sound like this, and, like, we would just have this way of speaking. And it’s not necessarily that I’m, like, stupid. It’s just that what I’m saying makes me sound less than.
“And so, for me, I find that, like, I can’t have people around me that speak that way, and mainly because I am a woman, and I grew up thinking a female voice and sound should sound sophisticated and sexy, a la Lauren Bacall or Anne Bancroft or Faye Dunaway, you know? Not a 12-year-old little girl, that is submissive to the male species.”
Bell’s qualified to speak on the subject — she stars in and directs In A World. In the movie, the king of the movie-trailer voiceover dies, and Bell’s character, Carol, thinks she could be the new sound of the industry.
The movie focuses on the pitch and inflection of voices and how they shape our image. Bell researched the subject: “I am so uncomfortable,” Bell says, “when I’m sitting in a restaurant and the tableful of 30-year-old women next to me are speaking (she switches into Valley Girl mode) “like 12-year-olds.” She says one woman “had such a dreadful voice, she lost me at ‘hello’.”
In Ireland, the equivalent is probably the ‘Dort’ (Dart) accent of Dublin’s southside girls — the type who wear Ugg boots with skinny jeans and flock to Dundrum Town Centre on a Saturday afternoon.
Voice coach Poll Moussoulides’ clients include actors, barristers, teachers, TV and radio presenters, government ministers and call-centre workers.
Some of the actors he has coached include: Cillian Murphy, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Angela Lansbury, Brendan Gleeson, Gabriel Byrne, James Nesbitt, Martin Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg, Robbie Coltrane, Jon Voight, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Catrall, Richard Dreyfus, Roger Daltry, Andrea Corr and Timothy Dalton.
Moussoulides is not a fan of ‘neutralising’ regional accents in favour of a classical BBC accent — indeed, he staunchly defended the former Donegal ‘Rose’, Gráinne Boyle, who was turned down for a nanny’s job in Russia, because the family said her accent was too strong.
The recruitment agency told Gráinne that many of the families on their books were looking for ‘BBC English’.
“She has a lovely, melodic accent,” Moussoulides says, adding that accents in Ireland reflect the landscapes where the speaker lives.
“Some areas which have hilly landscapes, mountains, peaks and troughs have more ‘up and down’ accents, and other areas are more flat, and people from those areas often have more monotone accents,” he says.
Often, the undulating accents are more pleasing to the ear, he says. “Midlands accents tend to flatten out and the listener has to try harder to understand the meaning — they can be more ambiguous,” Moussoulides says.
Vocalisation is about imparting your message in a clear, easy-to-hear fashion, rather than sounding like the speaking clock.
Irish celebrities who have distinctive accents — such as Imelda May — should be celebrated, says Moussoulides: “Her (May’s) speaking voice is brilliant — she has a natural energy that comes through and that’s what matters.”
There is nothing wrong with saying ‘fillum’ instead of ‘film’, if your listeners understand what you are referring to, says Moussoulides — but if people listening to you have to constantly interrupt to ask what you mean, then that can be a problem.
Model and TV star, Rozanna Purcell, who is from Tipperary, is aware of this: earlier this year, she said she had started elocution lessons to sound clearer.
“I’ve started elocution for my articulation; I’ve never been the best at pronouncing my Ts or Hs.
“I don’t want to lose my Tipp’ accent, at all; it’s just to improve my pronunciation, so that I sound clearer,” the former Miss Universe Ireland says.
Another celebrity who has a strong regional accent and is said to have taken elocution lessons is Cheryl Cole, and Victoria Beckham is also reported to have signed up her three sons.
Margaret Thatcher’s rise to success was partly attributed to advice to lower the tone of her voice, and to speak slowly and closer to the microphone, to make her voice husky, intimate and, above all, less hectoring.
However, not everyone is happy for it to be known that they have availed of a voice-coach or elocution lessons.
Moussoulides says he has worked privately with people in professions, from doctors to teachers and people in the corporate area.
Anyone who has bad memories of ‘electrocution lessons’ they were forced to take as a child, can rest easy: much has changed since then.
“In the ’80s, it was a lot about public speaking. Things have moved on since then, in terms of the psychology of communication. It is about sounding natural and at ease with what you are saying. People used to be told to take a deep breath before starting to speak. This is nonsense, really — it’s not useful. If you fill your lungs like that, then the air is bursting to come out and you feel anxious,” Moussoulides says.
Moussoulides could be onto something here: actor Morgan Freeman, known as the ‘voice of God’, revealed the secret of his amazing speaking voice — yawning.
“Yawning relaxes your throat, which relaxes your larynx and relaxes your vocal chords. So if you want a deeper, more mellifluous voice, spend a lot of time yawning.”
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