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Styling the voice-selling_the_product Styling the voice-selling_the_product Document Transcript

  • Studies in contrastive linguisticsPROCEEDINGS OF THE 4TH INTERNATIONAL CONTARASTIVE LINGUISTICS CONFERECNE, SEPTEMBER 2005, pp. 973-980 Styling the voice, selling the product Barry Pennock Speck Universitat de ValènciaAbstract Our voices tell others a lot about where we come from, our gender, ourage, our emotions, and other information, often without us being aware of it.Lyons (1977) labels a signal as informative if it is meaningful to the receiver asopposed to communicative, which is meaningful to the sender. In TVcommercials, where every single detail is infused with meaning, voices arecarefully moulded to achieve the effect the advertising agency wishes to projectand form part of the covert information included in the advert. In this paper I willcompare the physicality of voices, what Barthes (1977) called “the grain of thevoice”, in British and Spanish commercials to show how certain voices correlatewith certain products. Keywords: Sociolinguistics Media language Voice qualityIntroduction In this article I will be analysing voice-overs in English and Spanishcommercials. Most TV commercials are made up of some kind of mini dramaand most, but not all, include a voice-over. In the case of British “slice-of-life” ads which may include “accents, slang, or dialect” voice-overs may,
  • 974 Studies in contrastive linguisticsaccording to Brierly (2003: 267), tidy up “any ambiguities or uneasinesswith regional accents”. In other cases, voice-overs may reinforce themessage in the advert proper. Sutherland (2000: 109) states that the reasonthey are used is that they are cheaper and more flexible especially in casedifferent accents or languages are needed for different markets. I have onlyincluded voice-overs proper, that is, those in which the voices heard in theadvert are disembodied and do not belong to an actor appearing on screen atany time during the commercial. In my analysis of English and Spanish voice-overs I have taken intoaccount, geographical origin, gender, age, and voice settings such as creak,breathiness and fundamental frequency to see if these correlate with differentgroups of products. My English corpus is made up of ninety-six distinctadvertisements recorded at random during the month of August in 2004 onMTV base, MTV hits and MTV2. Of these, twelve did not feature voiceoversthus a total of eighty-four voiceovers were analyzed. The Spanish corpusconsists of 263 adverts with voice-overs from a total of 279 distinctadvertisements recorded at random during the month of August (2004) onseveral terrestrial Spanish channels.Voice Our voices often tell others a lot about our gender, age, where we comefrom, how we are feeling and other information that we might not even beaware of. In many jobs in the service industries voices are already an importantpart of the image that employees project and as such are groomed in much thesame way that a person’s physical image is (Cameron: 1985, 1995, 2001).Voices are important judging by the number of web pages advertising coursesto modify and improve them. A voice is a kind of signal and as such it isessential to distinguish between the two types of signals, i.e., “informative” and“communicative” identified by Lyons (1977: 33 vol.1). According to thisauthor a signal is informative “if (regardless of the intentions of the sender) itmakes the hearer aware of something of which he was not previously aware.”On the other hand, communicative signals are “intended by the sender to makethe receiver aware of something of which he was not previously aware” (Lyons1977: 33 vol. 1). Most of the time in everyday life our accent, the sound of ourvoices are mostly informative that is, we do not change our accent, rate ofspeech, or pitch deliberately for communicative ends. However, if voice ismanipulated deliberately, it becomes communicative.
  • Styling the voice, selling the product 975 BARRY PENNOCK SPECK Manipulating voices With regard to the manipulation of our voices, Laver & Trudgill (1979:26) talk about “actual markers” and “apparent markers”. The latter can bedivided into “misleading markers” which are “deliberately projected by a speakerin order to lay claim to characteristics of identity which are not actually his” and“misinterpreted markers” which are a misinterpretation on the part of the listener.From the examples Laver & Trudgill (1979) give –putting on an accent to soundlike someone from a higher social class and whispery voice being construed asconspiratorial when it is actually a symptom of laryingitis– it is clear that theseauthors are thinking of speech produced during naturally occurring conversation.However, in written-to-be-spoken genres such as films, plays, commercials andother types of performances voices are often or always manipulated deliberately.In the world of TV commercials, where every single detail is infused withmeaning, voices are carefully moulded to achieve the effect the advertisingagency wishes to project (Hart 1991: 180) and in effect form part of the covertinformation that is not readily available to viewers (Tanaka 1994). The designersof TV ads use speakers for voice-overs that fit in with the image of the productthey are attempting to sell or promote. Therefore, the voices chosen arecommunicative in the sense that they are deliberately chosen to achievecommunicative ends. The following Dove Body Wash commercial is an exampleof clear voice manipulation. It starts with a soft-spoken, slightly breathy voicebelonging to a woman who is evidently enjoying, in an almost sensual way, aseries of beauty treatments. From the word “yeah” the voice changes into a muchmore edgy, no-nonsense Estuary English (henceforth EE) type of voice. Thelinguistic message and the voice seem to be saying that modern young womenlike you and I have no time to mess about with elaborate beauty treatments butwe still want to look good. (1) Start the morning with a moisturising Tibetan body mask, aromatherapy essential oils and a hydrotherapy, bubbly tank thingy…. .Yeah, like you’ve got time for all that in the morning. Squeeze a little spa [intrusive “r”] into your shower instead with Dove Body Wash.Hypothesis and Analysis Following logically from the section above I hypothesize that, in spite ofthe multiplicity of advertising techniques, certain voice types, characterized bythe age of the speaker, his/her gender, geographical or social affiliation, and otherfactors such as voice quality, should correlate with the promotion of certainproduct types. I therefore analyze both corpora using these variables. I havediscussed the results according to language starting with the English corpus.
  • 976 Studies in contrastive linguistics English Corpus In spite of the very short duration of voice-overs, identification of accentsdid not prove too difficult except when distinguishing between RP and EstuaryEnglish accents in some ads (see Bell 1991 for the difficulties in distinguishingaccents in advertisements). To classify an accent as EE I relied on the appearance ofat least one feature of this accent –glottal stop instead of alveolar plosive, forexample. I found forty-eight ads with Standard RP accents, seventeen with Americanaccents, fourteen with EE accents, two with Cockney accents and one for each of thefollowing accents: African American, Conservative RP, Northern, and Irish. As forage, I divided this category into ostensively young, indeterminate, and middle-agedto older speakers. All the voices which were not overtly young or old were includedin the intermediate category which, perhaps for this reason, was found to be the mostcommon with forty-three examples compared to thirty-nine young voices and twoolder ones (indeterminate 51,2% versus others 49,6%). The most common types of marked voice quality I identified were deepvoice, creaky voice, breathy voice, swoopy intonation, and enthusiastic,aggressive, or vehement voices. There was some kind of salient voice-qualityfeature in forty-six of the eighty-four ads. From the point of view of gender therewere sixty-seven male voiceovers versus thirty-one female voiceovers (72,5%male versus 27,5% female). As expected for a middle-of-the-road accent, RP was used for thewidest range of products. Young RP voices were mostly encountered in mobileringtone ads, skin care and CDs. Indeterminate RP voices overlapped withyoung voices, for instance in advertising music and skin care. Middle-aged toolder voices were scarce in this corpus. In the case of RP they were found inads for financial services (RP) and an ad for Lukozade, an isotonic drink inwhich research into improving performance was emphasized. Most of the EEvoices were found in ads for mobiles, music, and skin care and belonged toyoung speakers. The young female EE speakers advertising ringtones hadswoopy intonation. Fourteen of the eighteen American voices belonged to menof an indeterminate age with deep, breathy voices and were found in adspromoting films or DVDs. There was only one young, female American voice,advertising lipstick and two other young voices advertising a CD and acomputer game. The only older American voice in the middle-aged to oldcategory was an imitation of a character from an American cartoon, WhackyRaces, in an ad promoting Opel Corsa cars. The only African American accentwas used to advertise a hip-hop album. A Cockney voice of indeterminateage was used in two ads for Cut Magazine a down-market publication for
  • Styling the voice, selling the product 977 BARRY PENNOCK SPECKmen for which the connotations of the Cockney accent –down to earth andstreetwise– were perfectly suited. The one ad with a Conservative RP voice-over featured an older women saying: “Anyone for Pimms?” mimicking thestereotypical “Anyone for tennis?” that conjures up images of the upper-classes. Although the majority of the ads in my corpus featured male voices,products aimed exclusively at girls or women featured only female voiceswhatever the accent used, whereas some products aimed exclusively at men didhave female voices. Marked voice settings were found in over half of the adsbut a clear correlation with product types was found in the case of ads for filmsand DVDs which had voice-overs with deep voices in nine out of ten ads.Breathy voice was also found alongside deep voices in these ads and also to amuch greater extent in personal hygiene products than for other products.Spanish CorpusAs there was only one voice-over featuring a regional accent, Catalan, theresults obtained from the Spanish corpus were less complex. As in the case ofEnglish ads the majority of the Spanish voice-overs featured male voices(65,5% male versus 34,5% female). Both male and female voices were used inads for a very wide variety of products but gender was a determining factor infemale hygiene ads which only included female voice-overs –the vast majorityof which were young. Young voices were also common in non-alcoholic drinkand ring-tone ads. In the Spanish corpus voices belonging to an indeterminateage group were predominant: 225 out of 263 (indeterminate 85,5% versusothers 14,5%). With regard to voice quality I found a higher proportion ofbreathy/deep voices in film trailers while all the perfume ads use some kind ofspecial trait, i.e. deep, breathy, sensual or foreign voices. Both sex related adsfeature ostensively sensual voices.ConclusionsFrom my analysis of the two corpora it is quite clear that voice does matter inTV ads in both Britain and Spain and that there are more similarities thandifferences between the two languages. The greatest divergence between thetwo corpora is the diversity of accents in British ads compared to the almosttotal homogeneity in my Spanish corpus. Unsurprisingly the most frequentaccent used in the British ads is RP, the accent of authority, establishment andprestige (Wells 1982; Holmes 1992, Downes 1998). The rationale for usingother accents may be because while RP enjoys overt prestige, rural accentsembody prestige of a covert kind (Holmes 1992: 347). Montgomery (2005: 73)
  • 978 Studies in contrastive linguisticsfound, for example, that commodities that embody expertise feature RP orAmerican accents but that others, such as food stuffs may use rural accents.Thomas (1999: 182) posits that advertisers use rural accents “to indicate thewholesome nature of food products” and “more prestigious accents such as RPto promote financial services". EE, which is used due to its credibility with ayounger audience, might also be a vehicle of covert prestige. Anotherexplanation for the use of less authoritative accents may be the gradual spreadof colloquial speech throughout the media. Accent may be linked to other traitsfound in verbal communication in the media, for instance, what Gregori-Signes(2000) calls “quasi-conversational” discourse (Gregori-Signes, 2000) whichcan be found, for example, in talk shows. This type of discourse also seems tobe growing even in news programmes which were once the domain of the mostauthoritative speech styles (Djerf-Pierre (2000). According to Fairclough(1994) the rise in this style throughout the media is to hide the imbalances insociety by persuading us that we are all equal so a greater number of regionalor social accents in ads today alongside other characteristics of colloquialspeech are to be expected. The age factor does seem to correlate with the type of productadvertised in both the British and Spanish corpus. Voices belonging to theindeterminate age group are the most common probably because, like RP in theBritish corpus, these voices are unmarked and can therefore be used with a greaternumber of products. Results from both corpora regarding gender seem to back up previousresearch that the presence of women in commercials is secondary or subservient tothat of men. However, very little research seems to have been carried out on thepresence of women’s voices in TV ads, which might be due to a bias towards thevisual that I have encountered in research in this area. I have only found oneresearcher, Kimmel (2003: 165), who states that authoritative voices in ads arenearly all men’s but he offers no empirical evidence to back this up. From the results of my research voice quality (cf. Barthes’ “grain of thevoice) definitely seems to correlate with certain product types in both corpora.Voice settings with sensual or intimate connotations are more common in beautyproducts and those related to sex and personal hygiene. Breathy voice, forexample, which is found in a number of ads has clear sexual associations or, at thevery least, is related to intimacy; Cruttendon (1986: 174) describes it as‘bedroom voice’ while Graddol & Swann (1989: 36) link it to “sexualarousal”. Creaky voice, which is encountered, although to a lesser extent inmy corpora, is also associated with intimacy (Gobl & Chasaide’s 2000:
  • Styling the voice, selling the product 979 BARRY PENNOCK SPECK182) and may also imply “calmness and assurance” (Brown & Levinson 1987:268). Finally, deep voices, according to Ohala (1983) and Graddol & Swann(1989), are authoritative which may account for their presence in TV commercialsand may explain why more male than female voices are used. In all there seems to be a clear link between voice-overs and the typeof product being advertised. What is striking about the analysis of British andSpanish ads is the fact that whether they are produced for a multi-nationalaudience and dubbed into other languages or whether they are designed for anational audience, the manipulation of voice, is so similar. This would seem toimply that the values held by consumers of TV commercials in Britain andSpain are basically the same and that what the two audiences share from acultural point of view is greater than the differences that separate them.ReferencesArden, John Boghosian 2003 Americas Meltdown: The Lowest-Common- Denominator Society. New York. Praeger.Barthes, Roland 1977 “The grain of the voice”. In Image-Music-Text. London: Fontana, 179-189.Bell, Alan 1991 The Language of News Media. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.Brown, Penelope and Lewinson, Stephen C. 1987 Politeness some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Cameron, Deborah 1995 Verbal Hygiene. London: Routledge.Cameron, Deborah (2000) Good to Talk. London: Sage.Cruttendon, Alan 1986 Intonation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Djerf-Pierre, Monica 2000 “Squaring the Circle: public service and commercial news on Swedish television”. Journalism Studies 1, 2: 156-99.Downes, William 1998 Language and Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Fairclough, Norman 1994 “Conversationalization of public discourse and the authority of the consumer”. In Authority of the Consumer, Russell Keat, Whitely, Nigel and Abercrombie, Nicholas (eds), 253-268. London: Routledge.Gobl, Christer and Ní Chasaide, Ailbhe 2000 “Testing Affective Correlates of Voice Quality Through Analysis and Resynthesis”. In Proceedings of the ISCA Workshop on Speech and Emotion: A Conceptual Framework for Research., Roddy Cowie, Ellen Douglas-Cowie & Marc Schröder (eds), 178-183. Belfast: Queens University.Gregori-Signes, Carmen 2000 “The tabloid talkshow as a quasi-conversational type of face-to-face interaction”. Journal of Pragmatics 10,2: 195-213.
  • 980 Studies in contrastive linguisticsHart, Andrew 1991 Understanding the Media: A Practical Guide. London: Routledge. Holmes, Janet 1992 An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. London: Longman.Kimmel, Michael S. 2003 The Gendered Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Laver, John and Trudgill, Peter 1979. “Phonetic and linguistic markers in speech”. In Social Markers in Speech, Klaus R. Scherer & Howard Giles (eds), 1-32. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Lyons, John 1977 Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2 volumes.Tanaka, Keiko 1994 Advertising Language: A Pragmatic Approach to Advertisements in Britain and Japan. London: Routledge.Montgomery, Martin 1995 An Introduction to Language and Society. London: Routledge.Sutherland, Max 2000 Advertising and the Mind of the Consumer: What Works, What Doesnt, and Why. St. Leonards, N.S.W: Allen & Unwin.Thomas, Linda and Wareing, Shan 1999 Language, Society and Power: An Introduction. London: Routledge.Wells, J. C. 1982 Accents of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.