Podfic and Accents

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Accents in podfic fandom are a recurring topic of discussion, with much meta generated about it, both from the listeners' and creators' sides.

Accent insecurity is rife in would-be and established podficcers. The questions around accents boil down to two concerns: "I want to podfic but I have an accent" and "I want to podfic in X fandom but I have the wrong accent." There was a lot of pushback from podficcers along both axes.

It is possible the topic has cristallized so much anxiety because it touches on several core aspects of the medium, such as the relationship between podfic and podficcers' bodies, the question of gatekeeping in fandom, and the definition of what podfic itself is.

Discussion

In a 2012 poll representative of attitudes around accents in podfic and the discourse around them, nikojen tried to collect reactions from podfic listeners[1]

To the question "As a listener, does the reader's accent matter to you?" people answered:

  • No, not at all: 23 (12.7%)
  • No, as long as I can understand them: 126 (69.6%)
  • Yes, I PREFER readers with accents: 5 (10.5%)
  • Yes, I want the accent to match the character/fandom: 19 (10.5%)
  • Yes, I try to AVOID readers with accents: 4 (2.2%)
  • I don't listen to enough podfic to have an opinion: 4 (2.2%)

The poll inspired a meta post by Paraka which highlighted many limitations and blindspots of the conversation around accents. Amongst others, it highlighted the link between accents and bodies:

And It's hard to hear people criticize, not only our art, but our person too. Because the accent each person carries is a part of them. It's their body, their history, their family and home being called out. To change your accent is a physical thing, nowhere near like sending off your, for example, Harry Potter fic to be Brit-picked. Accents are muscle memory and cultural cues and it's just not that easy to embody a different one (never mind that accents vary from person to person, so even if someone can get away with doing a generic regional accent not their own, trying to take on a specific person's accent is even harder).
paraka, 2012[2]

Podficcers' diverse accents were praised as a visible (audible!) marker of the diversity of fandom:

And the thing about saying "in a perfect world, all podfic readers would match the canon accents" is that, to me, it erases the podficcer from the equation. I like noticing that the podficcer is there, reading to me. [...]

Listening to podfics by people with different accents than mine fills me with glee, because it reminds me of just how far fandom can span.

paraka, ibid.

'Can I Podfic With My Accent?'

'Having an Accent'

To this day, anxieties about one's accent are one of the main barriers to entry in podfic:

More importantly, since I'd like to record more of my fic (as my fandom's a little underrepresented!), it'd be great if someone could reassure me that my accent's intelligible... Where I'm from (Northern Ireland), my accent's not very strong, but I've had English people claim not to understand me when I speak quickly.
black_eyedgirl, 2008[3]
do people find Australian accents jarring to listen to at all? I'd love to make a podfic, but I feel like listeners would be put off by my Australian-ness
twiryn, 2011[4]
would it bother you to listen to a podfic/audiobook read by someone who doesn’t have a clean native english accent? (but not a thick non-native accent either)

context: i ordered a mic because a friend and i were thinking about starting a podcast, so that means i can also get into podfic making which i would love to do BUT i’m super insecure about my accent

powerschlumpfi, 2020[5]
So I feel really self conscious about recording another podfic bc I was just reading about how people find the accent from where I'm from to be one of the ugliest/most annoying accents 😅 so idk if I should try to talk like I'm from nyc instead of upstate? Or??? Idkkk
softlouislove, 2021[6]

This elicited a lot of meta over the years:

The question of accent always makes me a little sad. It's so podfic-specific, and I seem hear it so often as a reason would-be podficcers are reluctant to join in. I know that ESL issues do come up for fic writers who write in English, but my impression is that proportionally speaking, it doesn't stop nearly as many people from trying. And of course, it's not an issue at all in vidding or other visual fanart. I mean, I know it comes up in podfic because we're actually hearing the voices behind the fanwork, but still. It just seems ludicrous to me to have so many people feel like they can't contribute to their preferred medium because of where they're from.
nickelmountain, 2012[7]
i'm tired of the ways that we minimize our own contributions, and the ways that we say we don't deserve our place. i'm tired of being told i'm too involved in 'boosterism' in the podfic community, and i'm tired of seeing people told they are doing it wrong. i'm tired of people saying that some people have accents and some don't.
general_jinjur, 2010[8]
And as a non-native listener... ALL native speakers HAVE accents TOO!! There are great variations within North America and within Australia and to me, even BIGGER variations within the UK. Being native definitely doesn't equal "not having an accent," and consequently, not being native doesn't mean that you suddenly "have" something that others do not that should prevent you from recording because no one will be able to understand you.
greedy_dancer, 2012[9]
In general, this is a sensitive topic for podficcers.

One, because a lot of people don't seem to realize that everyone has an accent of some kind. Or I'll hear people say things like "this person has an incomprehensible accent" passing subjective opinions off as objective facts. Because how comprehensible a person's accent is is very subjective and depends just as much on the person listening as it does the person speaking. It's easy to pick on ESL accents, but the simple truth is, there are a lot of native English speakers that can't understand each other, never mind bringing in ESL speakers. For example, as a Canadian, I sometimes find some of the dialects from the UK very hard to follow, but can generally follow a French accent fairly easily, simply due to the level of exposure I've had to both accents.

paraka, 2012[10]

'Having the Wrong Accent'

In the early days of podfic fandom, this was not helped by sometimes vocal listeners, or fic authors who -- at a time when blanket permission to podfic was not a common occurence -- insisted on gatekeeping who was 'allowed' to podfic their stories.

I'm going to be horribly snobby and say i'd only want my fics recorded by someone British...
webdypops, 2011[11]
My problem with podfic is it's inevitably read by an American woman and none of the characters in my fandoms are American women and it just makes it sound really odd to my ears, makes it so I can't envisage the characters speaking, and generally totally puts a bullet in my suspension of disbelief.
My nationality is why I don't DO podfic. I'd rather hear it in the accent of the fandom (and the sex of the POV character would be nice.)
anonymous FFA commenters, 2012[12]
I have been (I know to some) weirdly reticent on the subject of podfics of my fanfiction. [...]

My hesitance stems entirely from the fact that I didn’t know how I wanted to handle it. I have nothing against the concept of podfic in the abstract, nor do I have any objections to hypothetical podfic being made of my writing, but practically…I wasn’t sure. How do I pick someone? Do I need to select one podfic only? Should they be British? Does that matter? [...]

madlori, 2012[13]

The prevalence of the accent issue was dispiriting to many in the podfic community:

If you're someone who follows conversations about podfic (not necessarily meta, but just people casually talking about podfic), reader's accents not matching the canon's accents (and just generally not sounding like the canon character) is probably the second biggest complaint against podfic. [...]

What's troubling about the "readers should sound like canon" complaint, and gives it extra weight, is that it's one we see present within our community. And because it's something we discuss internally, more podficcers are aware the complaint exists and have probably engaged in, or at least followed, a discussion on the topic.

paraka, 2012[14]

Even BNFs were affected:

It took quite a while before I ventured to contact any authors & see if they'd be okay with me uploading them, and longer after that before I could bring myself to record anything for American fandoms (because of my accent).
Pandarus/FayJay, 2010[15]

In the comments to the 2012 accent poll by Nikojen, podficcers underlined how limiting/impossible "matching the canon's accent" would be:

As for having to match your accent to the charcter; I live in The US and I do a lot of Steve/Tony podfics. If I had to match my accent to the cannon character there is no way I could do Steve Rogers with his Brooklyn accent and I only live 2 states away.
saphirerose1986, 2012[16]
[...] And two, accents are a sensitive topic because when people say things like "I want the podficcer's accent to match the canon character's accent" that invalidates a lot of our work. It's an elitist attitude that basically tells me I shouldn't podfic because, of the ~65 podfics that I've made, I can only think of 2 that even featured a Canadian character (Rodney from SGA) and one of those was from an American character's POV (John), so that's ~64 podfics that wouldn't exist if "matching accents" was an actual rule or something.
paraka, 2012[17]

Commenting On Accents in Podfic

Not being a native English-speaker, I do think that my ability to speak English is a skill. But, for one thing, in the case of podfic I'm most likely reading someone else's words so the English isn't actually mine, and for another comments about accents are rarely about how good my English is. They are about how different my accent is from other English-speakers'. [...] I like being told listeners enjoy my accent and find it intriguing, soothing or even exotic! God knows there's enough accent insecurity out there in Podfic Fandom, so reassurance that one's accent is not off-putting is always welcome. It's just not the thing I am most proud of, or the thing I want people to notice over all others, or the thing I want to be known/remembered for, because mostly, I don't view my accent as a skill, I view it as an imperfection [...].
greedy_dancer, 2012[18]

Should Podficcers 'Do' Accents?

Many podficcers have experimented with accents other than their own -- whether for a whole podfic or for specific characters.

As awareness of racism in fandom progressed, another line of questioning arose in podfic fandom around whether or not podficcers should attempt the accents of marginalized characters.

In 2021, the pod_together challenge mods scheduled a discussion around this theme on the challenge's discord server, which included strategies to differenciate characters without resorting to stereotypical or offensive accents, such as focusing on intention and intonation.

Further Reading

Outside Sources

References

  1. ^ Poll: Accents by nikojen at amplificathon (2012)
  2. ^ On Accents and Podfic written by paraka, read by anatsuno, 2012
  3. ^ Accents in Recording by black_eyedgirl in podfic_tips, April 1, 2008
  4. ^ comment on "Accents" by twiryn, June 3, 2011
  5. ^ @powerschlumpfi tweet Oct 29, 2020
  6. ^ @softlouislove tweet Jan 31, 2021
  7. ^ nickelmountain comment on "Poll: Accents", July 31, 2012
  8. ^ nickelmountain no subject, July 15, 2010
  9. ^ greedy_dancer comment on nikojen's "Poll: Accents" post, July 31, 2012
  10. ^ On Accents and Podfic written by paraka, read by anatsuno, 2012
  11. ^ Blanket Permission to Podfic statement as posted on fire-juggler's post (2011)
  12. ^ anonymous commenters on FFA, July 13, 2012
  13. ^ madlori Tumblr post, 2012
  14. ^ paraka comment on "Poll: Accents", August 2, 2012
  15. ^ Pandarus comment on "workshop: podfic!", April 4, 2010
  16. ^ saphirerose1986 comment on nikojen's "Poll: Accents" post, July 31, 2012
  17. ^ On Accents and Podfic written by paraka, read by anatsuno, 2012
  18. ^ Pod-Aware meta: story love, body love, performance love by greedy_dancer, posted to Dreamwidth November 2012