Actors Be Damned! (or: What I Don’t Think)—What Is the Value of (Super) Narrow Transcription?

All actors should learn narrow transcription. And I mean super narrow, with multiple diacritics hanging off of every symbol like crazed Christmas ornaments. All teachers and coaches should employ similarly narrow transcription in all their prepared materials, and whenever taking or giving phonetic notes. They should not water down the detail even when preparing materials for or giving notes to actors who don’t know any phonetics. If these actors can’t handle it, well, that’s just too bad. They should have paid attention in speech class. No. I’m pretty sure some people think that’s what I believe. I don’t. I think […]

Vocal Tract Posture and Four-Year-Olds

A version of this post was previously published in The VASTA Voice. Getting the vocal tract posture of a language or an accent right is a crucial part of successful accent acquisition. Vocal tract posture (also called oral posture), is the particular patterning of muscular engagement, release, and positioning characteristic of individuals and groups of speakers. It is, if you will, the ‘home base’ for an accent, and can be thought of as the position to which the vocal tract returns when at rest, or when preparing to speak or resume speaking. Phoneticians call it articulatory basis, or basis of […]

Collecting accents

I wrote a thing. Two things, I guess: two short texts for eliciting useful accent samples. Here they are: Dali’s Last Hurrah* What frosty land is this? How was its fate decided? Coal-black mountains loom; Glassy pools reflect their huge, queer forms. A bird-like woman searches slowly through the trees; Flocks of trembling sparrows cluster about blood-red barns. I feel the flashing claws of chalk-white terror rip at my breath. My courage fails. A furious, hoarse voice whispers from the inky shadows, “He knew his duty. We cannot be afraid.” Fighting a fog of sudden nightmare visions— Savage lambs, Fork-tongued […]

Why the Detail Model Had to Go

(Roots, part III) The teaching of any prescriptive speech pattern as some sort of basis or ‘neutral’ will inevitably encode privilege and elitism, alienate actors from nonstandard speech backgrounds, and actively impede the acquisition of accurate and detailed perception and the ability to subtly adapt one’s own speech and accent.     It’s been a ridiculous fourteen months since I last posted. Even worse, at the end of that post, I teased the next part of the story, promising to write soon about Why the Detail Model Had to Go. Better late than never, I suppose. This is that post. […]

Roots, Part II

  The other day I wrote a bit about some of the intellectual and linguistic foundations of Knight-Thompson Speechwork. Today I’d like to write a bit about how Dudley found his way from there to here, as it were, and a bit about why KTS-based speech classes spend so much more time on vocal tract explorations, play, and teaching (the entirety of) the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) than traditional speech classes do.   When Dudley trained as an actor, at Yale Drama in the early 1960s, there wasn’t much in the way of speech training as we’d recognize it today. […]


I’ve been thinking a lot this fall about the roots of this work. Unitarian Universalists like to talk about roots and wings. Roots ground you, connect you to where you’ve come from and what’s important. They form your support system and give you structure, organization, stability, and sustenance. Wings carry you aloft. They are those things that inspire you, that lift you up and out into the world and into ever widening circles of possibility. Individuals, families, and communities all need both roots and wings to flourish and thrive[1]. I think rich, coherent bodies of work, like Knight-Thompson Speechwork, also […]

The Name of Action

  I studied acting with the great Earle Gister some years back. He was a brilliant man, and his way of teaching and speaking about acting resonated deeply with me. It felt, at the time, like the missing piece of my equipment as an actor. After working with Earle, I still had plenty left to learn as an actor—I don’t think we ever get to the end of that particular road—but I felt somehow complete in a way I hadn’t before. In every acting job A.E. (After Earle), I knew what to do. It’s not that I was never lost […]

Rhoticity, Part Two: Symbol Confusion

  This post is a part two of an answer to a question posed by Kim Mappleswitch. Part one is here. As a reminder, Kim writes: At The High Standards Academy of Dramatic Art (HSADA) we’re required to teach Standard Stage as a basis for learning IPA. I have asked the faculty here how they teach the /ɜ˞/ sound. On one hand – it’s that the tongue tip stays behind the lower teeth and on the other hand it’s that the tongue tip is not on the lower teeth, but rather “floats” because the body of the tongue is slightly […]

The Bird is the Word

Kim Mappleswitch writes: At The High Standards Academy of Dramatic Art (HSADA) we’re required to teach Standard Stage as a basis for learning IPA. I have asked the faculty here how they teach the /ɜ˞/ sound. On one hand – it’s that the tongue tip stays behind the lower teeth and on the other hand it’s that the tongue tip is not on the lower teeth, but rather “floats” because the body of the tongue is slightly retracted. What do you guys think? Rhoticity is a difficult topic and I’d like to have some clarity with this symbol and get […]

Email address!

We’ve just established an email address for the blog. You can now write in with questions to: We’d love to hear from you. Any question you may have about transcription, exercises, pedagogy, philosophy, linguistic resources, etc.—send them in! (The one area I think we can perhaps leave for other forums is requests for help finding resources for specific accents. Those discussions are probably best had on vastavox or the Facebook page. Let’s leave this forum specifically for questions to do with Knight-Thompson Speechwork, phonetics, teaching, coaching, linguistics, etc. I think that’ll be plenty!) Bring us your questions!

Adding Insult to Investigation

One thing I think we’d like to do with this blog is share ideas for new and fun Omnish exercises. One of us will write a post soon sharing one or two that aren’t in the book. I have also found a need in my teaching, however, for some extra Outlandish exercises. I hesitate to introduce Omnish until my students are thoroughly grounded in the Empty Chart—in all the specific possibilities of obstruent action. But because the Bataan Death March through the Empty Chart can take up to five ninety-minute classes, I have a great need for fun things to […]

Narrow transcription

Many, perhaps most people who come and take a Knight-Thompson workshop have already studied phonetics before in some form. Many have also done some phonetic transcription, though for the most part what people have done is quite broad (and even prescriptive in purpose!) and so is more like phonemic transcription than phonetic transcription. And then, of course, there are those who come to the workshops completely fresh, not having studied phonetics before in any form. Though KTS is much more than just phonetics, of course, narrow, descriptive phonetic transcription is a key element of the work. A high degree of […]

Complexity nourishes art

I taught my first classes of the new year this week, so I’ve been thinking a lot about Dudley. I miss him tremendously, as so many of us do. But at the same time, I feel incredibly fortunate not just to have known him and learned so much from him, but also to be in a position where I get to continue learning from him by teaching his work. Phil and I made a fascinating discovery in August, while we were teaching Experiencing Speech in Irvine. It was a small discovery, just a tiny matter of terminology, really, but an […]

Oh, those wandering GOATs

I think it’s high time we stopped representing the So-Called General American GOAT phoneme as /oʊ̯/.  I don’t think it can be very controversial to suggest that [oʊ̯], phonetically-speaking, would be a very unusual vowel to hear from most American speakers in 2012.  The only Americans who come close to a fully-rounded [o] in realizing this phoneme are from what dialectologists call the North Central dialect region—the Dakotas, Minnesota, Michigan’s UP, and parts of Wisconsin, Montana & Iowa.  (We might also add Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley, where Sarah Palin hails from—much of which was settled in the 1930s by transplants from […]