An acoustic vowel formant analysis of the accuracy of dialect performance in The Wire


  • Madeline Elizabeth Thompson Nottingham Trent University


This analysis looks at the F1 & F2 vowel formants in the dialect performances of Idris Elba and Dominic West in The Wire, to observe the accuracy of performance and development over time. A review of the current literature established that assessing the first two vowel formants (F1 & F2) of speech is an effective way of describing accent development (Yan et al. 2003: 345), and the software Praat (Boersma & Weenink 2020) was utilised to define F1 and F2 values to develop vowel spaces of 11 American English vowels: /i, I, e, c, {, ɑ, O, V, o, U, u/ (Clopper et al. 2005: 28). These vowel spaces were produced for two performed Baltimorean accents from British-English actors: Idris Elba and Dominic West, and two natural Baltimorean accents from two Baltimorean natives: Lance Reddick and Lawrence Gilliard Jr. The hypothesis was that there will not be a discernible difference between the performed and natural performances. To establish this, the analysis compared the vowel spaces of all four actors, specifically examining the Baltimorese feature of vowel fronting in the GOOSE vowel (Milford 2000: 234), and observing West and Elba from their first and last appearances on the series. The results discovered that Elba was able to produce a steady pattern of change over time that West did not match in relation to vowel fronting, whilst also assimilating towards the Baltimorean actors significantly more than West.