"The 'Asian accent' tells the story of Chinese-American assimilation in a nutshell," Arthur Chu writes. Ida Mae Astute/Getty Images hide caption
"The 'Asian accent' tells the story of Chinese-American assimilation in a nutshell," Arthur Chu writes.Ida Mae Astute/Getty Images
A little part of me cringes every time I do it, but at this point it's second nature.
It's hard to describe in words, but it involves a lot of leveling, a lot of smoothing. The tongue stays closer to the center of the mouth rather than doing the pronounced, defined highs and lows that shape the L and R sounds. The vocal cords vibrate in smooth, singing tones rather than doing the little hop up and down that makes for a normal American English syllable.
And after a few practice sentences, it slips effortlessly from my mouth. "Herro, and wercome to Beijing. Zhis is yoah guide to an ancient culchah ..."
Lo and behold, I'm speaking English in a "Chinese accent."
I shouldn't complain — no actor can really get upset about a source of steady work. As I've pointed out, when Asian characters don't have accents it just means that white voice artists end up playing them. In all the kerfuffle about the "whitewashing" of M. Night Shyamalan's live-action version of The Last Airbender, people totally ignored that the voice cast of the cartoon it was based on was also almost all white people playing Asian characters.
Nor is there ever anything blatantly offensive in the content that makes me not want to take the role. I get uncomfortable with a narration having a "Chinese accent" just to give "color," so to speak, to a video set in China, but it's no different in spirit than having a Southern-accented narrator for a video set in Texas.
Most of my discomfort, I have to admit, is personal.
Because here's the thing. Nearly every Chinese immigrant I've met does, in fact, "talk like that," because it's almost impossible not to have a thick accent when your first language is as fundamentally phonetically different from English as Mandarin or Cantonese is.
But it's equally true that every single Chinese-American kid born here I've met emphatically does not "talk like that." In fact, there isn't a Chinese-American accent the way there's a distinct cadence to how black Americans or Latino Americans talk. Most Chinese-Americans have a pitch-perfect "invisible" accent for wherever they live.
If anything, the thing that made me weird as a kid was that my English was too perfect. My grammar was too meticulously correct, my words too carefully enunciated — I was the kid who sounded like 'Professor Robot.'
If anything, the thing that made me weird as a kid was that my English was too perfect. My grammar was too meticulously correct, my words too carefully enunciated — I was the kid who sounded like "Professor Robot." In order to avoid being a social pariah in high school I had to learn to use a carefully calibrated proportion of slurred syllables and street slang in my speech — just enough to sound "normal," not enough to sound like I was "trying too hard." I would actually sit at home, talking to myself, practicing sounding like a normal teenager.
I don't think I'm alone in this, though of my Chinese-American colleagues I'm one of the few who's taken the quest to develop a perfectly "neutral" voice so far that I now market said voice to produce corporate videos and voice-mail greetings.
The "Asian accent" tells the story of Chinese-American assimilation in a nutshell. Our parents have the accent that white Americans perceive as the most foreign out of all the possible alternatives, so our choice is to have no accent at all. The accent of our parents is the accent of the grimy streets of Chinatown with its mahjong parlors and fried food stalls and counterfeit jewelry, so we work to wipe away all traces of that world from our speech so we can settle comfortably into our roles as respectable middle-class doctors, lawyers, engineers, hundreds of miles from Chinatown.
No wonder we react so viscerally to the "ching-chong, ching-chong" schoolyard taunt. To attack our language, our ability to sound "normal," is to attack our ability to be normal. It's to attack everything we've worked for.
The 'Asian accent' tells the story of Chinese-American assimilation in a nutshell. Our parents have the accent that white Americans perceive as the most foreign out of all the possible alternatives, so our choice is to have no accent at all.
And make no mistake about it — to sound like a "normal" American is to wield privilege.
I remember translating for my parents at customer service desks or in restaurants, where despite my youth my ability to carefully round my R's and use perfectly grammatical sentences made my complaints more credible. Taking my mother's scattered notes in "broken English" and crafting perfectly respectable job applications and cover letters out of them, all the while in the back of my mind wondering, "What are they going to think when she actually shows up for work and I can't translate for her?"
Most vividly I remember being on vacation at the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park that straddles the U.S.-Canadian border, bemusedly translating between my dad and a park ranger, both of whom were speaking English. One of them would say something. The other would blink in confusion. Only when I repeated it did they understand. And suddenly I realized my dad's Chinese accent and the ranger's Canadian accent were too far apart from each other to be mutually intelligible.
I had the magic power, the royal privilege, of speaking the "correct" kind of English, the kind broadcast on the radio and TV. When I said something, people understood. My dad, who'd spoken English most of his life, and the ranger, who'd spoken English all his life, both depended on me to understand each other.
How strange, to be so important, to wield so much power, just because your version of the English language is the "right" one. How strange to be in a profession where people will pay you money to read words they wrote because their own, real, personal accent and dialect is "wrong."
And how terrifying it is to have that awesome feeling of privilege and safety in speaking the "right" language be attacked. When I was a contestant on Jeopardy! one of my quirks was that, having studied using books and flashcards, a lot of my pronunciations of words were unusual.
An enterprising YouTuber put together a supercut of all my pronunciation flubs — like saying "obstretrics" for "obstetrics" in the heat of the moment — and capped it with a clip from Pulp Fiction, Samuel L. Jackson screaming, "ENGLISH, MOTHER******! DO YOU SPEAK IT?!"
Of all the people making fun of me online for my weight, my appearance, my dour expression or my general unlikeability, the attacks on my ability to speak English cut deepest. More than all the other YouTube videos made of me, that one made me want to jump in the comments yelling, "Yeah, well, my wife until last year said 'rheTORic' instead of 'RHEtoric,' but you wouldn't question her fluency in the English language over that because she's white, and she was born here, and that's racist!"
Luckily I restrained myself. But this weird fear of somehow losing my American-ness still haunts me.
So those embarrassing "Chinese accent" voice-over jobs? I don't think it's just the money; I think I go after them as a weird form of self-therapy, facing what you fear in order to master it.
I spent my entire childhood learning how to pass for "normal" in the way I spoke, to grasp for the privilege that came with assimilation. But as any linguist will tell you, the idea of "perfect" speech is an illusion. No one actually has a "perfect" accent; the definition of "proper" English is arbitrary and fluctuates wildly over time.
Indeed, the single biggest barrier I have to getting voice-over jobs now is that my voice is too perfect, that the most common note you see from producers on spec sheets is, "Not too announcer-y, must sound like a real person." The "proper" English that was on TV when I was a kid isn't "proper" anymore; the definition of proper English keeps updating itself, keeps readjusting to match what people think of as "real."
Well, the English I grew up with as "real" isn't the English I painstakingly forced on myself from listening to TV and my peers at school. It's the English of my parents, complete with underpronounced L's and R's, dropped "and"s and "the"s, sing-songy and "broken" and embarrassing.
That accent is real, but my use of it can never be, not after so many years of renouncing it and avoiding it and exterminating any trace of it from my day-to-day speech. After a lifetime of rehearsals and training, the "announcer voice" is my voice, and the only reliable way to sound "less announcer-y" is to put on an accent that isn't mine, be it Brooklyn, Biloxi or Beijing.
What a paradox. When I sound real, I'm fake, and when I sound fake, I'm real. I can only wonder how many of my fellow hyphenated Americans can say the same.
Arthur Chu is a bicoastal Chinese-American nerd who's currently settled down in Cleveland, Ohio. An actor, comedian and sometime culture blogger, he somehow captured national attention for becoming an 11-time Jeopardy! champion in March 2014 and is now shamelessly extending his presence in the national spotlight by all available means. He lives with his wife and an indeterminate but alarmingly ever-growing number of cats. Follow him on Twitter at @arthur_affect.
Correction Aug. 1, 2014
An earlier version of this story gave the wrong name for the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
If someone is searching for a book or article to read, he or she will decide from the very beginning whether this work is worth attention. Ironically, the book can be an awesome piece of writing. If the opening lines are dull, a reader will unlikely keep reading the rest.
A hook in the essay is a catchy sentence or paragraph in the introduction which serves as an attention-grabbing element.
The effectiveness of the hook is defined by its ability to motivate people to read the entire text. A hook sentence is the most recommended way to start an academic paper of any type as it gives a hint of what the topic is and what kind of questions will be observed. It keeps the reading audience intrigued to the end.
An excellent hook sentence is engaging and interesting; it is a perfect method to start an argumentative or persuasive paper. The problem is that once students start, they forget to keep the rest of the paper interesting. It's important to define the target audience, thesis, and supporting arguments not to fall off the point. However, this article is focused on writing a hook; it is time to find out the ways a writer can pick the most appropriate attention grabber. View these great tips on writing a school/college essay to get more information.
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How to Write a Hook sentence?
Before we begin to talk about types of perfect essay hook, we want to mention several steps students should take to decide on which hook to choose.
How to write a good hook?
- You must have a clear vision of what kind of a literary work you are working on.
Definition, descriptive, and narrative essays differ from argumentative and critical essays a lot because they require different writing strategies. In the initial group of essays, you need to describe certain events or concepts, whether the second group requires you to use persuasive techniques to support your argument.
It allows writers to see how the work is structured better and which points to highlight.
- Understand who you are writing for.
Each cohort, each generation has its own language, and your primary task is to choose a particular way in which your work will develop. When you write for children, write for children. If you write for language professionals, take their specific language into account - it is an effective way to get an action plan and follow it.
- Realize why you are writing this essay.
If it is a paper on a complicated topic for a popular magazine, you can go funny and humorous, and your readers will love this approach. Yet, if you write a conference paper, be more formal. Good hooks must fit in your writing frame, your tone and style.
The answer to the question is 'no.' You can't use more than 1-2 hook sentences in your paper because you risk having high plagiarism level and making your reader lost. Try to choose only one powerful hook as the opening sentence of paper's introduction. You can also add a hook at the beginning of conclusion (learn how to write conclusion).
Let's Look at Some Catchy Hooks for Essays
START WITH AN INTERESTING FACT
"Archaeologists believe, based on marks they've seen on mummies, that human beings had tattoos between 4000 and 2000 B.C. in Egypt."(David Shields, 36 Tattoos)
Do you want to make the audience read your full text? Amaze them with the great introduction! Get them hooked with the help of a fact they have never heard and keep them interested throughout the entire work. Such hook sentences do not necessarily need specific figures. Check out this article: don't you want to learn more about where tattoos have come from and what they mean?
STATE A THESIS
"Few aspects of the American mythos form such a complex set of relationships with the African American experience as the idea of the frontier."(Pamela Swanigan, Much the Same on the Other Side: The Boondocks and the Symbolic Frontier)
If you have a great idea and you want to be straightforward and introduce it immediately because it is unique, do what you want. Why is this particular sentence so hooking? It intrigues the readers because using such a structure the author 'promises' she will tell us about something special. We are interested in the concept of frontier now.
Unlike other types of hook sentences, a thesis is something a writer is obligated to develop in every new paper - view the general structure here. That is why it is better to start with another hook to have two attention grabbers in the introduction.
PLACE YOUR FAVORITE LITERARY QUOTE
"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring)
It would be a good hook in an essay of several types: a writer can choose to focus on the value of time, review "The Fellowship of the Ring" storyline, or describe the character of Gandalf. A great hook is the one which has many different applications in one text.
QUOTE FAMOUS PEOPLE YOU BELIEVE ARE WISE
"Any achievement in business is never accomplished by a single person; a team of skilled members from diversified fields is always needed." (Steve Jobs)
The wisdom of this man has no doubts. People tend to believe every single word Steve Jobs says as he has achieved amazing results, wealthy being, and a new age of technology. Such people are worth listening. It is a good idea to start a paper on business, management, leadership, marketing, or even IT from these words.
PURCHASE CHEAP ESSAYS OF ANY TYPE
USE A GREAT STORY AS AN OPENING
"In late 1979, a twenty-four-year-old entrepreneur paid a visit to a research center in Silicon Valley called Xerox PARC. He was the co-founder of a small computer startup down the road, in Cupertino. His name was Steve Jobs."(Malcolm Gladwell, Creation Myth)
Do you need anything else to get hooked? It is a brilliant essay starter. Stories are always effective, but stories about famous people are on top. Do the research, read great people's biographies and find correlations with the theme of your writing. Give readers a nice story, and they will enjoy it.
SETA SCENE ANOTHER TIME
"The dark blue glitter was penetrating, leaving no space for creativity. In just one stare, Mary's eyes defined a lot about her true passion, her devotion and her commitment to her cause. Most of the employees that day left the corporation once launched by Mike Myers without saying a word, but feeling completely different people." (Unknown writer)
This category of good hooks is almost the same as the previously discussed attention-grabber. The goal of the writer is to describe a certain scene taken from the fiction story or real life. No matter what the topic is, it is the effective method used to make the readers not only think but feel the emotions of heroes.
ANECDOTE/JOKE TO MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH
"A Chukcha comes into a shop and asks: "Do you have color TVs?" "Yes, we do." "Give me a green one." (Unknown author)
Every day we learn different jokes from our colleagues, family, or friends. If you want to share these funny stories with your teacher or classmates, the best way is to use anecdotes as the relaxing hook sentences. They make people both laugh and feel less stressed. Humor is one of the keys to success in our life, and a good anecdote is not an exception. In our case, the anecdote may start a serious topic like the problems people with colorblindness experience. The anecdote can serve as an introduction to the research on stereotypes about Chukcha, especially their intellect. The same anecdote may open an essay on different types of humor.
STRIKE WITH NUMBERS AND STATISTICS
"According to 2008 figures from the Pew Research Center, 97% of today's K-12 students spend many hours each week playing video games."(Keith Devlin, Learning Math with a Video Game)
Every time you want to draw the audience's attention, start the intro paragraph with large numbers and interesting statistics. Demonstrate that you did extensive research and created a good basis for your discussion.
SURPRISE READERS BY REVEALING A COMMON MISCONCEPTION
"We all know that a tongue has several sections which are exclusively responsible for a particular taste: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. The idea was disproven by other studies and research."
What can be more intriguing than finding out that an idea you have had in mind for years is wrong? This is a perfect trigger, and it will get your audience hooked in a second.
INVOLVE A CONTRADICTION
"Mrs. Lynch's freaky dress made me feel excited and disgusted at the same time; it was not the best choice."
Good hooks may include contradictions. The example shows a contradictive sentence combines opposite ideas/situations.
CREATE AN IMAGE, SIMILE, OR METAPHOR
"To make an omelet you need not only those broken eggs but someone 'oppressed' to beat them..." (Joan Didion, The Women's Movement)
Obviously, this isn't a recipe or a story about eggs. The writer starts with a very simple, everyday image, and then adds a drop of unpredictability - 'oppressed' ones to break the eggs. We call such sentence a fantastic starter and a great hook.
POSE A RHETORICAL QUESTION
"We all need food and water to live, don't we?" "People today know that the Earth is round, don't they?" "Children always find something new interesting, don't they?" "How much would you pay to save the life of your beloved ones?"
People think that all questions may have answers. There is a special type of questions known as rhetorical questions; they can be good hooks for essays on any topic. These questions have obvious answers. There is no need to explain why humans can't survive without food, how we learned that the planet is round, or why human life is priceless. It's just the way to let your reader think. It is an interesting way to start a paper on hate crime, life, existence, the universe, sense of life, moral or ethical values, etc.
ASK A QUESTION - GIVE AN ANSWER!
"Why do novelists write essays? Most publishers would rather have a novel."(Zadie Smith, The Rise of the Essay)
"What a nice question! We want to know the answer now, and we keep reading and reading and realize that we have finished the entire piece. Nothing is more hooking that a question that interests lots of people. Don't be afraid to use this trick if you want people to get sincerely interested in your academic writing.
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