Announcers need to speak clearly in order to communicate effectively.
Four Vocal Components
Your voice is made up of four parts:
A skillful announcer will learn to effectively use all four.
Breathing is the Foundation
Fundamentally, your voice is made up of exhaled air. When you are relaxed and quiet, the time you spend inhaling and exhaling are about equal. When speaking, inhalation is much quicker, and exhalation is sustained and controlled.
As you exhale, air passes through the larynx (voice box). Stretched across each side of the larynx are thin flexible muscle tissues called vocal folds (cords). During phonation, the vocal folds are brought close together, so air pressure causes them to vibrate.
The sound produced from phonation is weak…no more than a whisper. Resonance amplifies and enriches the weak phonated sound, by extending the vibration of the vocal folds to surrounding body tissues in the throat, chest and head.
The critical final step in voice production is articulation, the “packaging” of individual sound segments into meaningful utterances. The three primary articulators — tongue, lips, and jaw — shape and delineate the phonated tones into distinct speech sounds.
Three Types of Speech Sounds
There are three types of sounds in Standard American English speech: Vowels (pure phonated sounds) Diphthongs (vowel combinations) Consonants (phonemes)
You may have been taught that there are five vowels: A, E, I, O and U. Actually, there are at least twelve distinct vowel sounds in Standard American English speech. The differences between vowel sounds is largely due to the placement of the tongue.
Five vowels are produced with the tongue toward the front of the mouth: EE (beet, eat, see) [high, tense] IH (bit, did, sit) [high, lax] AY(ate, bait, pay) [mid, tense] EH (bet, get, end) [mid, lax] AAH (at, bat, cat) [low, tense]
Five vowels are produced with the tongue toward the back of the mouth: AH (alms, bomb, on) [low, lax] AW (bought, off, saw) [mid, lax] OH (boat, oak, own) [mid, tense] OOH (book, cook, foot) [high, lax] OO (boot, oops, move) [high, tense]
Two vowels are produced with the tongue in the middle of the mouth: UH (bun, sun, the) [low, lax] ER (bird, her, sir) [mid, tense] The unstressed UH, or schwa sound, is one of the most common vowels in American English Speech.
Making the most of Vowels A vowel sound is the only kind of speech sound that can be held indefinitely without changing. Vowel extension refers to the elongation of vowel sounds, especially in the final syllable of words and sentences. A bit can be pleasing; too much is distracting.
Lazy tongue placement can lead to vowel deviations, where one vowel sound is used in place of another. Many common mispronunciations are due to vowel deviations. Consider whether you may be guilty of the following vowel deviations…
EH for AY
For some, the AY sound is difficult to say when it is before an UL sound.
Try saying PAY and PAIL. Then say PAY and PELL. Does the AY sound in PAIL sound closer to the sound in PAY or PELL? Practice JAIL, FAIL, MAIL, WAIL.
EH for AAH
Many will substitute EH for AAH, especially in unstressed syllables.
Try saying BAT and SHALL. Then say BAT and SHELL. Does the AAH sound in SHALL sound closer to BAT or SHELL? Practice MARY, PARIS, TARRY.
EH for IH
A fairly common vowel deviation is EH for IH.
Try saying BIT and MILK. Then say BIT and ELK. Does the IH sound in MILK sound closer to BIT or ELK? Practice SINCE, FILL, THINK.
AH for AW
Some people fail to distinguish the sounds AH and AW.
Say ON and BOMB. Then say ON and BAUGHT. Does the AH sound in BOMB sound closer to ON or BAUGHT? Practice DON and DAWN.
IH for EE
Like AY, the EE sound is difficult to say when it is before an UL sound.
Try saying WE and MEAL. Then say WE and MILL. Does the EE sound in MEAL sound closer to the sound in WE or MILL? Practice REALLY, DEAL, HEAL.
A diphthong is a sound positioned between two vowel sounds, where one vowel sound glides into another. Some speakers with lazy articulators (jaw, lips, tongue) fail to make a distinctive glide between vowel sounds in diphthongs.
The EYE sound, or long I, is a glide formed from the AH and IH sounds.
Practice these sentences: Try my fine pie. I like my bike. Why try to lie? My sly guy cries at night.
The AU sound, as in how, is a glide between the AH and OOH sounds.
Practice these sentences: How can a brown cow be loud? A mouse is now in my house. Our town’s gown is around a pound. The outside outlet is grounded.
The OY sound, as in BOY, is a glide between the OH and IH sounds.
Practice these sentences: His toy made Roy a noisy boy. I employ an oily coin. I like soy on my boiled oysters. I annoyed Floyd by joining Troy.
The YOO sound is a glides formed from the IH and OO sounds, typically with a soft Y sound at the beginning.
Practice these sentences: I refused to use or abuse the few. Tuesday’s news was useful. The beautiful view imbued with hue. You can tune some new music in June.
While vowels and diphthongs carry most of the sound in language, consonants carry most of the meaning of language. It is thus important for announcers to clearly articulate consonant sounds to ensure the meaning of copy is clear.
Voiced vs. Unvoiced
Consonants can be classified as either voiced or unvoiced. Voiced consonants are always combined with a vowel sound, like B, D, G, V, Z and hard TH. Unvoiced consonants are distinct interruptions between vowel sounds, like P, T, K, F, S and soft TH.
Plosives and Fricatives
Plosives are formed by the sudden release of air. Plosive consonants include P, B, T, D, K, and G. Fricatives are formed by the friction of air flowing through restricted air passages. Fricative consonants include F, V, TH, Z, S, SH and ZH.
Nasals and Affricates
Nasals employ resonance in the nasal cavities. The nasal consonants include M, N and NG. Affricates combine a plosive with a fricative. The affricates include the unvoiced CH and the voiced J.
Announcers need to be careful of the extreme consonants that can be distorted by microphones: The “popping plosives” P and B The “clicking plosives” K and G Excess sibilance from S and Z Excess nasality from M, N and NG
Steeling Consonants Most people are sloppy articulators of consonant sounds, especially the final T and D sounds of unstressed syllables and at ends of sentences. Announcers should practice “steeling consonants”—striving to make them crisp, clean and clear.