How the English has changed Ilona Mask for 20 years

Elon Musk is one of the brightest personalities of the 21st century. Engineer, entrepreneur and millionaire with simply unimaginable ideas. PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX – this is all his brainchild, and the businessman is not going to stop only on a few projects that have become world-wide successful. He inspires millions of people with his own example and proves that even one person is completely capable of changing the world for the better.

Elon Musk speaks a lot at conferences and seminars, gives interviews and leads social networks. And many of his fans noticed that his English is somewhat different from classic American.

In this article we will analyze in detail the English language of Ilona Mask, his emphasis and features of pronunciation of words. And also analyze how the businessman’s English speech has changed over the past 20 years. So let’s go.

Accent Ilona Mask: South African or American?

Ilon Musk spent his childhood in Pretoria, the capital of the Republic of South Africa. English is the official language in South Africa, so it is taught at school and is widely used in everyday life.

The influence of Afrikaans on the development of English in South Africa is quite insignificant, but in terms of pronunciation and articulation of words, it is still felt.

At the start of his business career, Elon Musk had a classic Praetorian accent. This is especially evident in the early videos with him.

Around 1999, Musk gained popularity and wealth. The PayPal payment system, of which it is a co-founder, has gained worldwide distribution in just a year of development.

The video clearly shows how Elon Musk says. And its southern accent is clearly visible, which only smoothed out a bit from living in Canada (in 1999, the entrepreneur still lived in Canada).

It is noteworthy that the emphasis of the Mask can not be called completely southern. A lot of it is American.

For example, the pronunciation of the diphthong “ai” in such words as life, light, fight is considered to be a very noticeable feature of the South African accent. In the American version, they are all pronounced through [aɪ]: [laɪf], [laɪt], [faɪt].

You can listen to the sound of words with a classic American accent in the ED Words application.

In southern english sound [aɪ] often turns into [ɔɪ]as in the word annoying or toy.

But in the speech of Elon Musk, the words light and life sound familiar to the American ear. In the video above this is audible.

Musk uses typical American [r]in which the tip of the tongue is stationary and does not vibrate. In the South African accent they often say tougher percussion [r]which sound closer to Russian. It’s all about the peculiarities of the pronunciation of this sound in Afrikaans – there it is more rigid than in English.

American sound pronunciation [r] The mask is explained very simply. Solid [r] they speak mainly South Africans, in whom Afrikaans is native, and English is second. For Ilon, on the contrary: English is the native language, and Afrikaans is the second.

In addition, the influence of living in Canada, and then in the United States, has changed the language of Mask quite dramatically.

Now we will analyze the features of the South African accent that have been preserved in the Mask’s speech to this day.

No pauses in words and swallowing sounds

One of the noteworthy features of South African English is the high pace of speech and the almost complete absence of pauses between words.

If in British English pauses are clear, in American they may not be in the pronunciation of articles or interjections, then in South African the whole sentence can be pronounced in one go, without pauses at all.

Elon Musk has a very fast spoken language. He practically does not pause between words. And because of this, he simply does not utter many sounds. Let’s get an example right away.

In the word have, a businessman often makes a sound [h]therefore instead [hæv] it turns out [‘æv]. Moreover, in significant nouns that begin with the letter h, there is always sound.

Musk also often swallows vowels in articles and pronouns. The, that, their and similar. In a quick speech, he drops the vowel and pronounces the word along with the next.

I worked in the paint shop … – I worked in a paint shop.


The phrase “I worked in the paint shop” Musk pronounces in one motion. It turns out the following: [aɪ wɜrkɪn’ z’peɪnʃɑp].

It is clearly audible that in the phrase “worked in”, Musk omitted the ending “-ed”, which is why “worked in” is heard exactly as “working”. At the same time, the article “the” is almost completely reduced – only sound remains from it [z]which sounds like the prefix of the next word. Exactly [z], but not [ð] or [θ]. Also in the fusion of the words “paint shop” there was a sound [t].

Similar reductions are characteristic of American English, but on a smaller scale.

It is noteworthy that this can only be heard in an interview with Mask, during which he speaks emotionally. In stage performances, there are practically no such sound mergers.

Frequent use of sound [z]

In a South African accent sound [z] (as in zip or zebra) is often used instead [s].

Elon Musk also does this. And not only in ordinary speech, but even in the name of his company – Tesla.

In American English, Tesla will be pronounced as [ˈtɛslə]. Britons often make a sound [s] in this word as double – this is also permissible.

Musk pronounces the company name as [ˈtɛzlə], through [z]. This fact still surprises both British and Americans, so Leslie Stahl, a well-known journalist for the American television channel CBS, asked Mask a direct question about how he pronounces the word Tesla. And he confirmed that after all through z.

Similar replacement [s] on the [z] – This is one of the features of the southern accent. And Elon Musk has not yet got rid of her.

Compare English Ilona Mask in 1999 and 2020

If we compare the available recordings of the speech of Elon Mask 1999 and 2020, it will be clear that his English has become more American. If in 1999, subjectively, in his speech there were 60% of the South African accent and 40% of the American one, now it is 75% of the American and only 25% of the South African.

Changes in the English Ilona can not be called too serious, but still they are.

In 1999, Ilon spoke most of the vowels through the nose. This “nasal” pronunciation is very common in South Africa. In 2020, there was no trace of this. Intonations in modern interviews are entirely American. There is a suspicion that after the worldwide success came to him, Musk specially engaged in stage speech in order to competently speak at conferences and seminars.

In everyday life and in informal interviews, intonations from his southern accent slip through him, but they do not exist in speeches in front of an audience.

Also, Ilon is no longer “enveloped” in such words as “most”, “cost”, “got”. In 1999, all these words he spoke through [ɔ:]. This is well heard on a recording from 1999 at the very beginning of the article. Mo-ost, co-ost, go-from – these words sound something like this. Now they are quite American, through [ɒ]: [mɒst], [kɒst], [gɒt].

As for vocabulary, there are practically no changes. Elon Musk did not use slang expressions from South African English both in 1999 and 2020. He actively uses neologisms and scientific slang, but this is part of his profession.

In general, you can see how much the emphasis of Ilon Mask has changed over 20 years. And it is quite understandable, after all these 20 years he mainly lives and works in the USA. Even if the entrepreneur did not consciously work on the Americanization of his speech (and we still think that he was working on it), today his English is much more American than South African.

From the example of many famous personalities, we see that in order to create the desired emphasis, it is important to immerse yourself in a full-fledged ecosystem of the English language. It was her we introduced in EnglishDom. This gives excellent results – after 3 months of study, students from London’s Capital of Great Britain move to the correct pronunciation with a classic British or American accent. All products of our ecosystem are slightly lower.

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