American Rhythm: Reese Witherspoon speech analysis

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In this lesson you’re going to learn:

1. What is the secret of American rhythm and intonation?
2. What are the things in American English that non-native speakers sometimes perceive as
‘fake’ and ‘over-the-top’, and how can we change this misperception?
3. What makes a speech in English powerful and effective?

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Hey guys, It’s Hadar and this is the

Accent’s Way.

and today we’re going to talk about

American rhythm.

We already said that American rhythm

is derived from the

content which means

words that are stressed are usually

longer and higher in pitch.

For example, content words like

verbs, nouns, adjectives

and adverbs in comparison

to words that are less stressed,

that are shorter and lower in

pitch and softer.

And these are function words like

‘on, in, at, could, would, should, am,
as, are, for, of, this, a.

Now if in your language you

have a specific stress pattern

meaning maybe you stress every other

word or maybe you only stress things

at the beginning and drop at the end.

This is a challenge for you and

this is why you need to change

your mindset and start

recognizing the words that you want

to stress and these are the words

that you want to go for.

And by ‘go for’ I mean prolong the

main vowel in them and

raise the pitch for them.

And to demonstrate this idea of

American intonation and rhythm even

further I chose to

analyze with you this wonderful

speech by Reese Witherspoon.

Let’s take a look.

What we do now.

Seriously I’m not kidding.

Go back and watch any movie and you

will see this.

What do we do now?

Here she’s talking about the fact

that almost in every movie there

is a point where the woman turns to

the man asking “What do we do now?” Okay,

so let’s analyze this question for a sec.

“What do we do now”.

The two words that stick out the

most are ‘what’ and ‘now’.

and then we also have ‘do’

What do we do now?

What do we do now?

So we have ‘what’ that is really high in pitch.

Notice that she’s not pushing her

voice to say the ‘what’ and

the ‘now’ she just goes high in pitch.

“What do we do now”? Right.

Now of course she’s exaggerating and

I’m not expecting it to go this high in pitch.

‘What do we do now” but just try to

get the essence of

the way she stresses things.

“What do we do now?” So

wuh duh we do, duh we, duh we. It’s
not ‘what do we’.

The ‘we’ is not reduced but she’s

saying it really-really quickly.

“What do we do”.

Right. She’s not going higher in

pitch but it’s longer TA-da-da-da

TA, TA-da-da-da TA.

It’s not.

“What do we do now”.

ta-ta-ta-ta

“What do we do NOW?”.

So if you don’t want exaggerated so

much you can just ask: “What do we

do NOW?”

‘What do we do NOW?”

Ta-da-da-da TA.

‘What do we do NOW?” right

‘Now’ is really long,’what’ is kind

of long, ‘do’ is right there in the middle: TA-da-da-da-TA.

But the ‘do we’ is short and somewhat reduced.

Wuh duh we do now.

Let’s look at the next sentence.

What do we do now?

Seriously I’m not kidding. Go back and watch any movie and you will see.

Seriously I’m not kidding.

Go back and watch any movie.

Seriously.

Not kidding.

Any movie.

These are the stressed words.

Seriously.

Not kidding.

Any movie.

Seriously I’m not kidding.

Go back and watch any movie.

So she really slows down hitting those stressed words.

This is not to speechy.

That’s how people actually speak.

Right. It’s a common that she’s

adding It’s not planned I think. Right.

Seriously I’m not kidding.

‘Seriously’ that’s higher in pitch.

The SE- which is the primary stress is longer than the rest of the syllables: TA-da-da-da.

And ‘I’m not kidding’ both the ‘not’ and the ‘kidding’ are stressed.

‘Kidding’ is a little more stress than ‘not’. So it’s going to be a little higher in pitch.

“Seriously I’m not kidding”.

Go back and watch, go back and

watch, go back and watch.

Go back.

Watch.

These are three content words

but they’re not as stressed.

They’re not reduced.

So we don’t reduce the vowel there

to a shwa but they’re said quickly and softly

and with very little effort.

Go back and watch any

movie. Right.

Slow-slow.

“Go back and watch any movie.”

I’m not pushing it.

I’m not stressing it.

I’m not necessarily saying it a lot louder, it’s just slower.

“Go back and watch any movie.” and

it’s the distinction between the fast past and the slow part.

That makes it different, that helps it stick out.

So it’s not just about saying it

slowly or strongly

or higher in pitch it’s also about

what I did just before which is

I’kinda like reduced it or she did.

and watch any movie and you will see this line over and over again. You’re going to see it now.

And you see THIS LINE over and over again

And you will see THIS LINE over and over again,

And you will see this line

So first of all listen to the melody. Every syllable has a different note.

“And you will see this line”, “and you will”.. She didn’t reduce it to y’ll.

“And you will see this line”.

But it’s said quickly and effortlessly.

“And you will see this line”.

‘Line’ is longer.

“Over and over again”.

Right? “Again” is reduced.

“Over and over again” because it’s

not about the repetition.

It’s about how it happens

every single time.

This is why she chooses to stress

“over and over”, “over

and over again”

and you will see this line over and

over again.

If you’re going to see it now.

You’re going to see it now.

You’re going to see it now.

Now she’s not saying “you’re going

to see it now”.

You’re gonna, you’re gonna.

She’s not just reducing it she’s

going higher in pitch but in this

case that doesn’t mean that it’s stress.

This is a common pattern where a

sentence starts with higher notes.

“You’re gonna see it now” but “see” is the word that sticks out that is longer.

TA-ta-ra-ta, TA-ta-ta-ta-ta.

You’re going to see it now.

You’re going to see it now.

See it, at, at.

It’s reduced right.

It’s not. See it.

See it.

You’re going to see it.

Now you’re gonna see it now.

I’m always playing with my head

voice and my chest voice.

I’m going up.

I’m not pushing my voice.

You’re gonna see it now, right?

I’m not using more energy to stress.

I’m just raising my pitch slightly.

And if you’re not comfortable with

going really high in pitch because

you get really high pitch when you

really wanna stress something

you know a little lower in pitch.

Or you can just prolong the word.

You’re going to see it now.

You’re going to see it now and

that’s also OK.

But it is different then “You are going to see it now.”

“You are going to see it now” or

“you’re going to see it now”.

Right?

You’re going to see it now.

That’s the rhythm.

That’s the melody.

And that’s the feel of American English.

Let’s skip to the end of the speech.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think we are in a cultural crisis.

Ladies and gentlemen I think we are in a cultural crisis.

Now again look at this constant distinction between the fast and the slow the reduced and the stress.

Ladies and gentlemen, right.

That’s not that important.

Obviously she’s talking to the

ladies and the gentleman in the audience.

Ladies and gentlemen I think we are.

“I think we are”. “Think” is stress it’s a little longer.

“I” is a bit more reduced.

“I think we are in a cultural crisis”.

Right.

So she slows down on the two words “cultural crisis”.

I think we are in a cultural crisis, right.

When you really want to stress your

point slow down towards the end of the point and then prolong the words that you are stressing.

I think we are.

“Think” is also stressed.

Ta-Ta-ra-TA. Ta-TA-ra-Ta-ta-ra-ta-ta.

So the words are prolonged but also the pace slows down towards the end.

Ladies and gentlemen I think we are in-a cultural crisis.

In every field, and every industry.

In every field.

In every industry.

Now notice the word “in” turns into a shwa.

She is reducing it. In and in every field.

So “in” is reduced, “every” is a little longer.

And “field” that’s a stressed word.

This word is higher in pitch and longer. In every field, in every industry.

In every field.

She places it here.

In every industry.

So “industry” is a little higher in pitch it’s a little longer because she’s starting to build up her argument.

In every field, in every industry.

And again she slows down to get our point across to indicate that it’s an important part.

Like I just did now.

It’s an important part you slow down when you reach the important part.

Women are underrepresented and underpaid in leadership positions.

Women are underrepresented and underpaid in leadership positions.

So a lot of words are stressed here:

women, underrepresented,

underpaid, leadership positions.

Right.

This is an important sentence, so more words are naturally going to be stressed.

But here I really want you to see how they come across

in comparison to the function words that barely get noticed.

Women are underrepresented.

Ah. Ah.

Ah.

Women are, women are

it’s not. Women are under represented.

Women are underrepresented.

Underrepresented.

And even in the word underrepresented, there is a distinction between the more

important and the less important.

“Under ” is less important. Underrepresented.

And then the “Z” is the primary source so it’s going to be higher in pitch and longer than the rest.

Women are underrepresented an underpaid and then “in leadership positions”.

So “in” is really really short and reduced. It feels like it’s part of the word leadership.

Leadership.

In-leadership, in-leadership.

So you go from the end to the L you connect them in-leadership positions.

Notice there is no “o” in the word positions.

In leadership positions.

And the reason we’re all talking about it tonight.

And the reason we’re all talking about it tonight.

Ta-ta-Ta-ra-ta-Ta-ta, right.

And the reason, “reason” is higher in pitch and longer.

And the reason w-r-all, w-r-all. It’s not “we are all’.

“We are” turns into “w-r”. And it’s low in pitch and soft and quick.

‘W’r-all’ and then we connected to “all”.

So eventually what you get is “w’r-all”, w’r-all, w’r-all.

It’s not even “we”.

It’s like ‘w-r’all”, right.

Whoa-raul.

And the reason we’re all talking about it tonight.

Talking about it tonight.

The “talking” is important.

So that’s gonna be the peak

in terms of the pitch.

Talking about it tonight.

Ta-ra-ta-TA.

So “talking” and “tonight” are

important, “about it” is less

important. So it’s gonna be fast and

short and kind of reduced.

Talking about it tonight, talking

about it. it-it.

It’s not “talking about it”.

Talking about it tonight.

Under 5 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women.

Under 5 percent

of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women.

So there are the stressed words,

there are the reduced words.

Third, the stressed words and among them there

are words that are more stressed and less stressed.

So let’s look into it.

“Under five percent” that’s stressed because it’s slower and higher in pitch.

Under 5 percent of CEOs.

That’s also stressed but “of” is reduced.

Under, that’s also reduced.

Under five percent of CEOs.

Ta-TA Ta

-ta- ta- ta-ra TA.

Notice that in the word CEOs the

stress falls on the last letter ceO,

ceO.

Under five percent of CEOs

of Fortune 500 companies, right.

These are all content words but

they’re less important, right.

So here there are no reductions but

you need to practice saying it quickly.

Fortune 500 companies,

and again connected speech is

important because it feels like it’s one big word.

Fortune five hundred companies,

fortune-five-hundred-companies.

The secret to getting it right is to really soften your consonants.

Say your consonants really softly,

don’t push every consonant

“Fortune five hundred”.

No. Say these consonants softly.

Don’t push your voice and say it softly.

Fortune 500 companies.

Fortune 500 companies.

And if it’s difficult.

Say it 50 times in a row.

Fortune 500 companies.

And it doesn’t matter that you need

to be saying this phrase properly or not.

When you practice something that is

challenging and you manage to master it

you improve a little more you are able to do other things that are also challenging.

Okay.

So even if you’re saying to yourself

“I don’t need this speech.”

“I don’t need this phrase.”

“This is not a good practice.”

Then forget about these bad voices in your head.

Just practice it because every time

you practice something and improve

in it you’re improving English as well.

So, Fortune 500 companies are women.

Under 5 percent of

CEOs of Fortune 500 companies

are women.

So it’s not “are women”, it’s

not super stressed.

Okay. That’s how she manages to get to her point nicely.

r-women.

r-women.

Only 19 percent of Congress is women.

Only 19 percent of Congress is women.

Ta-ra-ta-ra-ta-ta-TA-ta-ta.

Right. Short-long, short-long.

Only 19 percent.

So this is stressed, it’s longer,

deliberately longer.

Of Congress, of Congress.

Ta-TA-DA.

Right. It’s not “of Congress”.

The CON is the primary

stress it’s one syllable.

It doesn’t have the same length as

“of”. There is also one syllable

cause “of” is reduced

and it’s not important.

So it’s pronounced quickly.

ev-CON-gress

is-women, is-women.

Right.

And again notice what she does.

It’s not “of Congress as women”.

Not everything is connected.

It is phrased.

There is a mini break “of Congress”

“is women”, right.

Like a mini-clap right there in the middle.

Only 19 percent of Congress is women.

These are the phrases it’s like a

mental break that you’re taking allowing you to speed up in the next race.

Only 19 percent of Congress

| is women.

No wonder we don’t have the health

care we deserve.

No wonder we don’t have.

That’s like a common intonation pattern

of this particular phrase.

No wonder you’re tired you haven’t been getting enough sleep.

No wonder she’s acting out she’s been eating candies all afternoon.

No wonder we don’t have.

“Wonder” is the stressed word,

“we don’t have”, “we don’t have” is reduced.

The health care we deserve.

The health care we deserve.

The health care we deserve.

The HEALTH care we

deserve. Right.

So “health care” is important and

“we deserve” is a little less.

Although it’s important.

So “we deserve” is pronounced

fully, It is not reduced

but it’s lower in pitch to.

Ta-TA-ra-ta-TA.

The HEALTHcare we deserve.

Notice how people speak around you. This is a very common speech pattern.

No wonder we don’t have the health care we deserve.

Or paid family leave or public access to early childhood education.

Or paid family leave or public

access to early childhood education.

So she’s listing things and every

time she lists something else it

is going to be higher in pitch.

No wonder we don’t have the health

care we deserve or paid family leave.

Or public access to early childhood education.

Or public ACCESS.

Right. So again she’s building it up.

Health care we deserve.

Paid family leave.

Public access

to early childhood education.

And then she keeps going down in

her low tone, in her lower

range right in her chest voice

and or paid access.

Right.

So this perception of women only

talking up here

is not right.

They go to their head voice and men as well.

By the way it’s not just women.

They go to head voice when they stress words in parts of the sentence and then parts

of the sentence are also really really low in pitch.

And we need to balance between the

highs and the low, the head voice

and the chest voice, the long

and the short, the fast and the slow.

And that really worries me.

And that really worries me.

And that, and that and that.

“That” is reduced and “that” is short.

“And that” (going down) REALLY (stressed, the word really is usually stressed)

“Really worries me”.

But whatever comes after is usually more stress.

And that really worries me.

And pronunciation aside, that really worries me too.

Okay, this was an example of how you

can take a speech, and interview, a TED talk that you like and analyze

it according to the things we learned.

I hope that this video helped you notice these things a little more.

Things that your brain usually filters out.

Things like rhythm, pitch, difference, voice difference, length

and pace.

So a good way to practice is to take a text,

underline the stressed words, cross out the reduced words

and try to imitate what you’re hearing knowing what words you’re going for.

And by “going for” I mean going higher in pitch, prolonging them.

and reducing, softening and going lower in pitch for

everything else that is not stressed.

Okay. That’s it. Thank you so much for watching.

Now let me know in the comments below what is the most important

thing that you’ve learned about American intonation or rhythm in this video.

And also tell me what you think about the content of the speech that we analyzed.

Have a wonderful week full of music and melody and rhythm and

I will see you next week in the next video.

Bye.

Show Episode Transcript

5 Comments on “American Rhythm: Reese Witherspoon speech analysis”

  1. I just want to express my gratitude for actually teaching people that studing english and learning how to speak english are a different ballpark,

  2. Hey there! I cannot get the script. The link I got it does notr work.
    please give me the right one. Regards

  3. Dear Hadar,

    Thank you for breaking down the speech and explaining how and where to focus on listening to and mimic each section. I desperately needed to see and hear a lesson about “Rhythm and Intonation” in this way. You are seriously a gifted teacher!

    Many thanks?

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