How Standard English Used to Sound – Stella Gibbons

For actors who want to know how the authentic, middle class, standard English accent of the 1930s and early 1940s sounds, go to the “ Writing Britain – Wastelands and Wonderlands” exhibition at the British Library.  There is a fantastic recording of an interview by Pamela Howe of Stella Gibbons on Woman’s Hour, recorded in 1974.
Stella Gibbon’s voice is clear and strong and sounds much younger than her 72 years.  She has the extended back of the neck sound of the 1930s and early 40s.  The slower movement of the lips and the precise placement of the blade of the tongue sound attractive because they’re supported by Stella Gibbons’ bell like voice and obvious happiness in talking about her novel, Cold Comfort Farm, first published in 1933.  Both women are unaffected by the “Sloane” loose lipped dialect that was big in London in the mid 70s.
The exhibition closes on September 25th but you can still hear the recording afterwards, if you’re a member of the British Library.

Stella Gibbons

Intonation and the English Language

“linguistics is the structure of words in a language, including patterns of inflections and derivation.”

In the linguistics department at UCL Dr Geoff Lindsey is the expert on intonation.  Intonation comes under the “patterns of inflection” part of linguistics.  This is an extremely important, initial part of learning a language.  In a way it creates the “music” of the language.
Most actors have developed the ability to copy intonation and general speech patterns through keen listening and observation.  My job as a dialect coach is to match the intonation pattern and the sounds and pass these on to the actors.  Once an actor has completed this step in learning the dialect,  it is of secondary importance.  The main drive of their speech will be using the language with the dialect, to act their role.    Contact Frances for dialect coaching at  +44 (0) 20 75806191

When I’m working with business people to help them express themselves vividly in English when English is not their main language, I work in a different way.  My clients are already knowledgeable in the English language and suffer from the agony of having to speak slowly and pedantically or take the risk of stumbling over their words.  They want to speak English with the same fluency as they speak their primary language.  As their primary language does not require the same breath flow as English they are often hijacked from the start. Adjustments can only take place and stay in place in the movement of mouth muscles, if they are synchronised with the onset of  voice production.  As voice production is stimulated in the language centre of the brain, the choice of words is crucial.  The choice of  our “nuclear” or “key” words will give impact and meaning to each of our phrases.    This is what creates intonation and rhythm and this   guides the ear of the listener.  Intonation then becomes intrinsic rather than extrinsic.  The words are more naturally connected to the speaker as with a first language, rather than connected to a learned intonation pattern.  Studied intonation patterns can give the listener the impression that the speaker’s not being sincere.  In England during the mid to late eighteenth century, intonation was used to great effect, to deliver terrible insults disguised as words of praise.   For more information on speaking English with clarity go to:

My grateful thanks to Dr Geoff Lindsey for his instruction on intonation at UCL.  It’s good to hear him on Fry’s English Delight.   He sounds more circumspect about intonation and much less formulaic.