Chopping and Linking

Chopping and Linking

Words that begin with vowels pose a challenge to actors. How to speak these sounds? When anything begins with a vowel, there is a tendency to initiate the sound with a glottal attack. This is done by closing the vocal folds together, and then building up pressure, and then blasting the folds into motion. Let’s try an experiment, so you can see what I mean. Say the first 4 vowel letters of the alphabet: A, E, I, O. (We don’t use "U" because its name actually begins with a consonant sound, which makes it much less likely to begin with a glottal.) Now, try it again, but this time, I want you to hesitate before each letter. ….A…E…I…O. Can you feel how you close off the folds, much like holding your breath, before each of those letters? When we encounter words that begin with vowel sounds, some people put this kind of glottal sound in front of each one them.

When I was first training as an actor, I was taught that glottaling a word that begins with a vowel was a very bad idea. Since that time, I’ve come to realize that glottaling isn’t the end of the world, and that, in some cases, using an occasional glottal sound can actually make your use of language clearer, more intelligible. An example of glottal attacks used in everyday speech is in the expression "Uh-uhn," meaning "NO." In IPA we’d transcribe that with the symbol for the glottal, which looks like a question mark without a dot. [ʔʌ ʔʌ̃]. However, I am convinced that most of us don’t need to use the glottal attack very often, and that most of the time, what we really need is to link to the word beginning with a vowel from the sound that comes before, whether that’s a consonant or a vowel.

Glottal attacks put a certain "punch" on the language, emphasizing those words that begin with a vowel. Sometimes this is necessary, but often, it’s not. We need to learn to use the whole word to catch the audience’s ear, rather than punching the word with a glottal. We need to embrace the thought that the idea and emotion behind a word is carried on the open sound as much as on the staccatto of the initial consonants.

We’ll look at a passage from Henry IV, part one, as he foreshadows his eventual betrayal of Falstaff, and reveals to the audience his duplicitous nature.

I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyok’d humour of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the Sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But, when they seldom come, they wish’d-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So when this loose behaviour I throw off,
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend to make offense a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.

I love this speech. It’s one of my most favourite plays, and this speech is the first I ever fell in love with. I’ve gone through and put an asterisk in front of every word that begins with a vowel. I want you to go through and punch, via a glottal, everyone of the them. I’m sure you’ll find that some of them are not so bad, if you punch them, and others will leave you wishing you didn’t punch them. Have a go with the first part of the speech:

*I know you *all, *and will *awhile *uphold
The *unyok’d humour *of your *idleness.
Yet herein will *I *imitate the Sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother *up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please *again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d *at,
By breaking through the foul *and *ugly mists
*Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.

Of course, that’s not the only way to play it! In fact, I’d say that that’s a rather odd way of playing it. The opposite way of doing it is to link the initial vowels with the sound that precedes it. So, words like you ‿all will link together. In this case, it feels almost as if there was a little linking w between the two words. In other cases, like in I ‿imitate it feels as if there was a little linking y (IPA [j]) between the vowels. Of course, words that begin phrases that begin with a vowel are a different breed. They need to begin with a simultaneous attack, where the breath and the folds come together at the same time. In the passage below, I’ve linked the words with vowels, and I’ve put a tiny h before words that need a simultaneous onset. (This is just a code — they don’t need a big "h" sound!). Try reading that passage again, trying to link as best you can.

ʰI know you ‿all, ʰand will ‿awhile ‿uphold
The ‿unyok’d humour ‿of your ‿idleness.
Yet herein will ‿I ‿imitate the Sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother ‿up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please ‿again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d ‿at,
By breaking through the foul ‿and ‿ugly mists
‿Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.

I’ve made a list of all the linked words, including those with vowel links that come through w-ish and y-ish sounding links (I’ve used a superscript to denote those). Try them out of context of the speech:

oo-wall, l-awhile, l-uphold, ee-yunyoked, r-of, r-idleness, l-I, I-yimitate, r-up, z-again, d-at, l-and, d-ugly, s-of.

Now you might thy the whole speech again. If there’s a word that you particularly want to emphasized really strongly, you can skip my linking advice and CHOP at it vigourously with a glottal. But I think you should be able to do the speech with no glottals whatsoever first, and then try it a final time allowing a few glottals where you believe you’ve earned them.

ʰI know you ‿all, ʰand will ‿awhile ‿uphold
The ‿unyok’d humour ‿of your ‿idleness.
Yet herein will ‿I ‿imitate the Sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother ‿up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please ‿again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d ‿at,
By breaking through the foul ‿and ‿ugly mists
‿Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
ʰIf ‿all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be ‿as tedious ‿as to work;
But, when they seldom come, they wish’d-for come,
ʰAnd nothing pleaseth but rare ‿accidents.
So when this loose behaviour ‿I throw ‿off,
ʰAnd pay the debt ‿I never promised,
By how much better than my word ‿I ‿am,
By so much shall ‿I falsify men’s hopes;
ʰAnd, like bright metal ‿on ‿a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt’ring ‿o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly ‿and ‿attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set ‿it ‿off.
ʰI’ll so ‿offend to make ‿offense ‿a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least ‿I will.

Lists of words beginning with vowels are particularly hard, as it very possible, if there is any hesitation on your part, to glottalize them all. Try reading this list of words (that feature just about every vowel sound in English) without glottalizing any of them:

Easter eggs,
Itching powder,
Acorns
Elephants,
Apples,
Underwear,
Urchins,
Udon noodles,
Oak trees,
Awnings,
Olives,

Angels,
Eiderdowns,
Oil paintings,
Oceans,
Outdoor lighting,

Earmuffs,
Airports,
Oarlocks,
Artists.

It’s a very difficult list. But there is a trick to learning to do this: breathe in, and imagine breathing in the shape of the vowel you are about to say. Then, without hesitating, go straight into the word. Take a tiny breath to prep for the next words in the shape of its vowel sound, and on you go! It’s remarkable how well this works. If you don’t really need to breathe in, make sure your throat is open before you go on to the next word. Hesitating and closing your folds before you begin a word is death here. You need to keep that channel open so that you don’t close down.

 

Next: Reall Larry: R and L

Eric Armstrong is the voiceguy. Eric is a dialect, voice, speech and text coach based in Toronto, Canada, where he normally teaches full-time at York University’s Dept. of Theatre. Eric has been teaching voice for the actor full-time since 1994, and has taught in Canada and the US, at the University of Windsor, Brandeis University, Roosevelt University, Canada's National Voice Intensive and York University. He has worked for nationally and internationally recognized companies such as Crow’s Theatre, Volcano, SoulPepper, & Canadian Stage in Toronto, and The Court Theatre and Steppenwolf in Chicago. Eric holds a BFA from Concordia University (Montreal) in Theatre Performance, and an MFA from York University (Toronto) in Acting. His mentors were David Smukler (York, Canada’s National Voice Intensive) and Andrew Wade (Royal Shakespeare Company). He has also studied at the Drama Studio, London, and Il Stage Internazzionale di Commedia dell’Arte in Reggio Emilia, Italy. He’s a long time member of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association, where he has served on the board, as a conference planner, photo editor for the Voice and Speech Review, Founding Director of Technology and Internet Services, and has written numerous peer-reviewed articles, essays and reviews for the VASTA Newsletter, the VASTA Voice, and The Voice and Speech Review.

Posted in Speech, Warm-ups Tagged with: , ,