Like all languages, English is spoken with different accents* in different parts of the world. Therefore, we have American, British, Australian, and other English accents. However, as much as you may want to order an "American English voiceover" or a "British English voiceover", etc, it's not so simple as that. Each of these countries has multiple sub-accents used in different regions (regional accents). For example, a British English accent may be Received Pronunciation, London Cockney, Kettering, etc, and an American accent may be New York, Midland, Southern, etc.
Click on the links below hear some examples of how words are pronounced in different accents:
As you can hear, there are great variations in accent, even within the same county.
When ordering a voiceover, you may sometimes want to choose a regional accent. If your audience belongs only to a specific area, choosing the accent used in that area can help your audience connect with your message. For example you are a car dealership located only Texas, and your customers are exclusively from there, using a Texan accent may make your audience feel an affinity for your business. Also, if your message is aimed at a general audience but your product is related to a specific area, you may want to use the accent of that area. For example, if you are selling vacation deals in France, you may want to use a French accent in order to convey authenticity or simply the feeling of France.
Most often, though, your message will be aimed at a general audience, and your product will not be linked to a specific location. In this case, you don't want your audience to focus on the accent. You want them to focus on your message. In other words, you want the accent to be transparent, unnoticeable, or neutral.
A neutral accent is an accent that is not discernable as originating in any specific region. At present, there IS no neutral accent on a global level. That is, English accents are still divided into British, American, Australian, etc. However, within some of these accents, there are sub-accents that are considered "neutral".
In British English, there is no neutral accent. Instead, there is a "standard" accent: Received Pronunciation, otherwise known as the Queen's English or BBC English.
In American English, there IS a neutral accent called General American. Wikipedia states that "General American is perceived by most Americans to be 'accent-less', meaning a person who speaks in such a manner does not appear to be from anywhere."
While General American is not restricted to any one region in the United States, it is most commonly spoken in the Midland region. As such, the terms Midland accent and General American are often used synonymously. The Midland region covers parts of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Ohio.
When Americans attend an accent reduction class in an effort to eradicate their regional accents, they are taught the General American accent. This accent is commonly used by newscasters and actors, and according to Wikipedia, it is often considered "preferable to other regional accents."
Furthermore, General American is often used when teaching English as a second language in schools worldwide (especially in Asia). It is the most commonly used English accent in the world today, and some linguists have argued that General American will eventually become the global neutral English accent.
The next time you order a voiceover, consider well what accent you choose. While there are cases in which a regional accent is in order, most often a neutral accent will be the best vehicle to convey your message to a global audience.
Victoria Feinerman was born and raised in Manhattan, Kansas - the Midland region - and has a Midland / General American / neutral accent.
*For the purpose of this article, we will not differentiate between accents and dialects, particularly since linguists disagree on their definitions.
Article by Victoria Feinerman