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The Pronounciation Conundrum

We've all been there, you're reading along in your voice-over copy, whether that's for an audio book, e-learning narration, or commercial, and you come to that word that despite your overwhelming large knowledge of vocabulary, you have no idea how to pronounce.  Seriously, it's okay, you can admit it, it happens to best of us.




Now how do you pronounce these guys?  Usually I use a combination of two sources: Dictionary.com and the OED.  Between the two of these you can usually find out how to pronounce just about any word.  The OED is great for archaic words, or if you just like to geek out over the linguistic history of words.  As far as I know you can only check it online for free through something like a library.  My account with the Chicago Public Library gives me access.  (you can buy the full version, a micro-text version, or coming soon, the OED Thesaurus!)

Now that's all fine and dandy...but what if the word you're having trouble pronouncing is a proper name?  If it's the name of a person, or especially a foreign person, you might have a hard time knowing how to pronounce it.  I ran across this recently while recording a non-fiction audio book.  The author quotes numerous outside sources, many of them foreign writers or personages.  As an example, one of my first challenges was:

Dag Hammarskjöld

Phew - there's a mouthful!  First off I just did a Google search and was able to easily find out who he was: Swedish diplomat and author, and former Secretary-General of the United Nations.  News to me.

Photo: UN/DPI Photo: UN/DPI

His Wikipedia page conveniently has an audio file of how his name is pronounced - wonderful!  However, there were many other names I ran across that Wikipedia did not help with.  Enter a new site, or at least new to me: Forvo.com This site tags itself as "All the words in the world. Pronounced."  A hefty mission, to say the least.  I looked up Dag's page, and there is another pronunciation from a native speaker, similar to Wikipedia's.  They also give you a handy little map that shows the nation of origin.  I don't feel too bad for not knowing of Forvo already since it's only been online since January of 2008.

You can become a member and contribute to the cause!  Forvo now has a reserved spot in my bookmarks and will be a tool in my box for future projects.  If you have any tips and tricks for finding pronounciations of words, or helpful websites, leave them in the comments section!

Random House partners with the Sunshine State

I've seen statistics and articles that claim the audiobook industry is thriving, or growing every year, and in part it may be due to companies like RandomHouse.  They're partnering with the state of Florida to promote audio book listening while driving (the only place to listen, if you ask me).

Random House has a very attractive site up with special offers such as free shipping and a contest to win a fantasy road trip.  It's well done, and I hope they roll it out to other states.  Part of the difficulty of working in this industry is the small niche size, so more listeners will convince more publishers to produce more books.

Random House - Listen Up Florida

A plethera of business cards

Peter over at VoxMarketising has a great post up that just came to my attention.  He's gathering images of voice talent's business cards for inspiration and admiration.  His original post was almost a month ago so I'm not sure if he's still updating, but I sent him my audio book business card just in case.  There's lots of "general" voice talent cards, but I'm not seeing a whole lot of segmentation.

audio book business card audio book business card

So is having multiple cards for various specialties a good thing, or is it just diluting your brand?

Voice talent business cards

One of my favorites is a local Chicago peep, Tony Craine.  Great brand and consistency in his card and website, it's very memorable!

A History of Audio from NPR

Here's an interesting podcast from NPR's show Talk of the Nation. It's called "Perfecting Sound Forever" and deals with the history of sound recording and evolution of our dealings with the medium.

'Perfecting Sound Forever': A History Of Audio

This is great basic stuff for someone like me who comes to the business from an acting background as opposed to a broadcasting or more technical space.  There are always terms and concepts thrown around by sound engineers that go so far over my head that I just smile and nod my head encouragingly.

Classic movie voice overs

From Mental Floss:

Here's a great listing of classic voice overs from movies.  Movies like Good Fellas and American Psycho, amont others.  As this blogger notes, I too have heard voice-over in movies referred to as a cop-out, or a film-makers shortcut of telling us instead of showing us.  I see where that comment comes from, but in the end game I disagree, as we in the voice over industry knows a voice alone can tell a profound story, and just because a voice is speaking doesn't mean it's "merely" telling you something.  It could be hiding, subversive; a character unto itself.  My question would be: "is the voice over written well?"  Does it advance the story?  Or is it truly an excuse for poor story telling?

Here's one of their examples from StreetWise, a 1984 documentary: (skip to 1:02)

Check out their full list with more examples:

Mental Floss Movie Voice Overs