Armitage says “f”

I love watching Mr. Armitage move his lips while speaking. (And at other points, too, but let’s keep our minds on pronunciation tonight, shall we?

The consonant I was fascinated by tonight is “f” in onset (words or syllables that start with “f”). Here are two examples of how Armitage’s mouth looks when he’s saying “f.”

“first” — John Porter (Richard Armitage) talks to Kingston (Jeffrey Sekele) in Strike Back 1.3. My cap.

“fight” — John Porter (Richard Armitage) during his prison break in Strike Back 1.3. My cap.

Linguists refer to “f” as the voiceless labiodental fricative. I love these caps because they make clear so vividly the two most significant features of the textbook explanation of how the consonant “f” is produced. Here’s a close-up.

“F” is a “fricative,” which means that it is created by the forcing of air between two articulators — usually a passive one that holds still and an active one that moves. The act of forcing air past the articulators is called frication. His facial features clearly demonstrate the labiodental aspect of the consonant, as the outer edge of his lower lip moves against his upper incisors. In fact, he even moves his upper lip away from the incisors to enhance the production of the consonant which facilitates our perception of the frication, which otherwise would have been muffled by the upper lip.

In both of the cases above, we’re seeing very vehement productions of the “f.” Readers will easily imagine the usual context for the most forceful use of this consonant, and Porter in fact says that word in this episode, but apparently not while the camera is on him, so I wasn’t able to capture that moment.

Mr. Armitage also regularly employs a less emphatic articulation of “f.” The means of production is broadly the same — lower lip moving against upper incisors, but in the less vehement articulation, he’s usually using the inner edge of the lower lip. He still moves his upper lip to prevent the muffling of the frication, but much less noticeably, and slightly more openly on the right side of his mouth, so that it can look a little like a sneer — something that worked very well for the character of John Porter.

This is fun to watch and cap simply because Armitage moves his lips so noticeably here. He does this for most of the sibilants as well, as well as for any consonant he’s forming in the front of his mouth. While some motion of the lips is necessary for any speaker to be understood, this clarity of articulation coming from strong lips movements, particularly at the beginning of words, eases our understanding of his speech — and one imagines he learned and practiced it in elocution lessons at school, while in drama training, and especially during his stage career.

~ by Servetus on November 6, 2012.

15 Responses to “Armitage says “f””

  1. I do love your analysis. Well done indeed.


    • Thanks. This kind of thing is fun because the knowledge being conveyed is so precise. (Unlike a lot of what I write)


  2. Very thorough analysis as always!
    I love when Armitage pronounces the word ‘ejaculate’ in the Georgette Heyer audiobooks (get your mind out of the gutter, they have a different meaning here LOL!). I’m only sorry we can’t see him reading / acting/ recording them.
    Now that I think of it, I probably should have left this comment to the Richard Armitage Confessions 🙂


  3. The cute ‘f’-word was the first we learned in the exchange program, not to use it ;o) What sense is that, but on RA, it is lovely to see all f’s.
    You so well point out and remind me of what I so admire in RA. His dedication to detail.
    Thank you, Servetus!


    • yeah — to me this is a characteristic of ultimate artistry — he’s fully “in” the character (I find myself looking at this episode and thinking, wow, he totally *is* John Porter) but at the same time attending to all these techniques of the trade. Impressive.


  4. Ah Professor Servetus! I do love your detailed explanations of All Things Armitage! 🙂 Thank you for the link as well – I tried to muddle through it but got lost somewhere in the middle. (Who knew syllables could be so complicated?) The screencaps are fantastic! If only you could do this for every letter — we could truly have an Armitage alphabet!! (I am totally serious, btw)
    Thanks Serv! 🙂


    • I start to have visions of Richard Armitage illustrating every lesson in linguistics and anatomy and politics and art …


  5. “Raucous, naughty, dirty, filthy beasts.” I just keep playing that clip over. And over. Every single one of those words. I think I just want him to read me each word from the dictionary. As in the big massive one that weighs 40 pounds and is in tiny, tiny print.


  6. […] –gh!” (I love what his lips do with this consonant, the labiodental fricative). […]


  7. […] 7. Crazy love for the labiodental fricative. […]


  8. If this description (including example pictures) would have been in my linguistic course books … I’d probably be a linguist now, focusing on a very special subject XD


    • me, too — in particular, if I’d have known there even WAS such job as dialect coach when I was doing my degree, my life might have been very different.


  9. […] There’s a new theory about the origin of “f” sounds in human language. (We talked about Armitage’s production of this consonant here.) […]


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