(voiced as Churchill) "Ladies and Gentlemen, the vote you will give on February the 23rd is of profound importance to your future. "
Hello. It’s Jon, your pronunciation and accents coach and right here you can get a better British accent.
Winston Churchill is often hailed as one of, if not the greatest speaker of all time and today we will dissect his speech and look at his accent, his style and his impediments, which made Churchill, well Churchill. Cigar is optional.
The media I used for this tutorial are a video and speech. The video is from British Pathe and the audio file is from wikipedia creative commons.
The video shows Churchill speaking to the camera and he’s quite relaxed and you can really hear some of the features that I’m going to talk about like February, February.
The audio is from his speech called Be Ye Men of Valour which was featured in the film ‘Darkest Hour’ with the brilliant performance of Churchill by Gary Oldman - also a good reference if you want to do an impression of Churchill.
Churchill speaks RP or Received Pronunciation in other words, a Posh/Upper Class accent. It is the kind of Received Pronunciation which is dying out. It’s called conservative RP. However, it was an excellent accent for early TV and radio and I go more into that in my video on the classic BBC accent. Now let’s look at 5 features of the accent that Churchill uses.
1.The ‘S’ is…different
So the first thing I need to point out is that he had a lisp, he also stuttered but let’s focus on the lisp. This is what we call a speech impediment where you have difficulty pronouncing the sounds connected with s. This is why he often sounds like he is mumbling but he really does pronounce his s sounds somewhere between an s and sh sound. Listen to the clip and the way he pronounces the ‘s’ in ‘speak’ and ‘first’.
“I speak to you for the first time as prime minister”
2.‘Y’ like Fit not Feet
In older versions of RP such as Conservative RP, people used to pronounce the sound of the letter ‘y’ at the ends of some words with an /i/ sound as in fit, not an /i:/ sound such as in the word feet. Consequently, Churchill said the following:
“For the life of our country”
Ok, let’s move on
3.‘A’ like Messes not Masses
In the next extract, Churchill uses the feature of pronouncing some words with a modern /æ/ sound to sound more like an /e/ sound. I think this is quite clear in the next clip where he says ‘messes’ for ‘masses’:
“the large masses are moving forward.” (56secs)
4.Our like Are
Churchill’s accent has the feature of making his our sounds sound more like are. Instead of the more modern diphthong or two vowel sounds gliding together, he uses something more like a monophthong sound - so our (2 sounds) becomes are (1 sound). So our becomes are. However, he pronounces the word hour as a diphthong, just like we do today. This can be heard when he says:
“In a solemn hour For the life of our country.”
5.‘R’ is for tapping
A feature that nowadays is almost obsolete is doing the tapped /r/ sound. I imagine that speakers like Churchill used this technique to sound sophisticated. It’s called the tapped r because you tap the roof of your mouth to actually create the sound. But actually Churchill seemed to use this not really in his speeches but when he was doing interviews or other kinds of speaking. I’ve found him saying a monologue the link in the description and he really goes for this traditional ‘r’ sound. Just listen to how he says February as Febrrruary. It’s really difficult to do. Have a go yourself - Febrrruary.
Other Important Features
Churchill’s pitch is mid to low with varying pitch often starting higher and ending lower. His voice is quite crackly, in other words not smooth, with a bit of a creaky voice in there sometimes. It also feels like he talks from the back of the throat and quite slow. Don’t rush.
Tone and body language
His tone is not only authoritative and serious, but also passionate, so the combination of all of these accent features plus the way he directly looked at the camera, or focussed on the microphone the viewer or listener must really have thought he was talking to them personally.
Churchill once said: “Short words are best, and old words are best of all.”
What that means is use the simplest words to get the message across:
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
We all understand these words, that derive from Old English, to get the message out, but
In the field of human conflict actually is a fancy way of saying war - so he contrasted the simple with the more sophisticated.
Finally, to finish off the whole Churchill effect, you need to extend your bottom lip a little to create a sort of fish mouth effect.
Final tip for filming
Now, let’s put it altogether in this clip, get your black and white film effect and some crackling, and get a little hiss on the microphone going and Bob’s your uncle!
“We shall fight on the beaches but we will never surrender!”
hi! it's jon.
Welcome to my blog of free tutorials explaining different British accents and areas of pronunciation. It's a complement to my video channel with video scripts, lessons and sometimes extra info not included in some videos. Click on the image to go to the video.