What’s your 弁?


Time Magazine online hosts a segment called Time 10 Questions. Writer, Ari Karpel recently interviewed Jim Parsons from the new hit show The Big Bang Theory. Towards the end of the interview there was a discussion about Parson’s Texas roots and how he hides, looses, or disguises his accent when he’s on camera. Parsons and Karpel go back and forth playing detect the Texan.  Parsons says something and Karpel tries to see if it sounds Texan enough.  This wordplay highlighted one of the most difficult things about being an actor or learning a language.  THE ACCENT!!!

Personally, I think one of the most abused accents is the Jamaican accent. Many people listen to a couple of Bob Marley and/or Peter Tosh records and think if they throw in a “Hey, mon!” or “Irie, irie!” then they sound Jamaican.  Sorry folks, but it’s just not that easy!

When I first arrived in Japan I kept hearing about 弁 (accent or dialect) Do you speak Osaka-ben? Do you speak Tokyo-ben?  People often encouraged me to study Japanese in Tokyo versus other parts of the country to have a cleaner accent.  There may be some truth to that, I don’t know. It could make the difference between talking with a country accent or speaking with a cool northern accent.

Since I have been in Japan, I have met Japanese people with an Australian or British accent that makes their English sound very intriguing.  However, the most common accent is North American either from the United States or Canada.

If you are an actor or you just want to learn how to sound more American, French, or even South African just check out The International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA). IDEA was founded in 1997 by Paul Meier, author of the best-selling Accents and Dialects for Stage and Screen.  The website listing has 9 countries and regions listed along with a special collection full of oral histories, phonetic transcriptions and speech and voice help.

I wonder if they have this service in Japanese? If you know about a dialect archive in Japan, please send the link and I’ll post it.

Take a look and listen at Jim Parsons interview!


About Michaela Chatman

Michaela Chatman is the founder of Camp Roadless Summer Visual and Performing Arts Summer Camp based in the Tokyo area. She has taught in Chicago, New York City, Hiroshima, and Tokyo. She has worked with children from ages 5-16. She is a dedicated fan and supporter of the arts. She performs locally in Tokyo with Kaguratei, a blues band. She is an active member in TELL:Exceptional Parents Group, Japan Affiliate of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum (JASCD), Tokyo Investment Group, and Pink Cow Connections Networking Group. For fun she organizes The Tokyo Lovers Pizza Meetup Group.
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