Speech Accent Archive
August 14, 2003 9:29 AM   Subscribe

The Speech Accent Archive, with 264 audio clips of native and non-native English speakers reading the same paragraph. Wonderful sounds if you love languages (and who doesn't?), including Bambara, Vietnamese, Uzbek, Quechua and the instantly recognizable Synthesized. [via Tara Calishan's invaluable ResearchBuzz]
posted by mediareport (22 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Oops, that Vietnamese link should be this.
posted by mediareport at 9:31 AM on August 14, 2003

Awesome link. I remember hearing about a New York City accent expert -- he could listen to a New Yorker speak and then he could correctly identify, almost down to the block, where that person had grown up.
posted by Tin Man at 9:45 AM on August 14, 2003

Fascinating stuff, I can listen to these all day. Would be interested to see it expand to include more variety of regional english-speaking accents over the top of non-native accents. E.g., a few finns I've met seem to pick up regional accents quite quickly so they are discernible whilst still being layered over finnish-english accents (so far as that exists). Would love to see this studied more. Will definitely visit again, thanks mediareport.
posted by biffa at 9:48 AM on August 14, 2003

Awesome link. I remember hearing about a New York City accent expert -- he could listen to a New Yorker speak and then he could correctly identify, almost down to the block, where that person had grown up.

Was his name Henry Higgins?
posted by linux at 9:59 AM on August 14, 2003

Fantastic find, I love hearing the Boston accent compared to everyone else.
posted by mathowie at 10:10 AM on August 14, 2003

This is immediately one of my favorite links ever! Thank you so much!

Neat thing to do when you're listening-- try to pick up the variety of english that the non-native speakers were schooled in/exposed to:

For instance, the French speaker from Quebec has a distinct Canadian English affectation, and there are pretty strong strains of Received Pronunciation from the Sinhalese-speaking woman.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:12 AM on August 14, 2003

Oh bonus! They put a creative commons license on the about page, so I guess people like the Stark Effect could produce a cool audio track.
posted by mathowie at 10:14 AM on August 14, 2003

Great stuff. What biffa said. Of course, where each of these individual speakers learned English makes a big difference in how they sound. I taught EFL in Thailand at a college where most of the English teachers were from Australia and the UK. Even after a couple of semesters, one could easily tell which of the students had studied with out resident Scotsman, and who had studied with an American.

On preview, more of what Major Curley was talking about.
posted by squirrel at 10:17 AM on August 14, 2003

Mathowie brings up another neat part of this: listening to the example(s) of your native dialect is an experience. I knew that the Boston example was from the Greater Boston Italian community before I looked at the info provided. It's probably indistinguishable from a hypothetical absolute accent for those who weren't raised in New England, but your local dialect will probably yield more information to you, as well.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:18 AM on August 14, 2003

this was really cool! I listened to nearly all, fascinated by nuances of how they learned English and so forth (and to hear some of the African accents in the Islands accents from people I knew in college).

but if I hear "please call Stella..." one more time I may jump out the window!
posted by evening at 11:01 AM on August 14, 2003

yo, just wanted to say thanks for this link.. really neat and interesting stuff!
posted by twiggy at 11:19 AM on August 14, 2003

Great Link! I'll be spending quite some time there now
posted by tboz at 11:38 AM on August 14, 2003

Wonderful! (Or: what everybody else said.) But then, I guess it's not surprising I like it.
posted by languagehat at 12:06 PM on August 14, 2003

This is cool. They don't have any samples of my "native dialect"-- the "neutral" midwestern accent. A lot of call centers are located here (or used to be, before they started shipping them to India) because of the neutrality of the local accent. Although people from around here occasionally say I sound like I'm from East Chicago, which is most likely because both my parents grew up very close to there (Hammond, Indiana). None of the American native english speakers that I listened to seemed to have terribly strong accents. I think that in general, American accents are moving towards the flat Midwestern accent that I grew up with. I think this is both because this tends to be the accent adopted by actors and newscasters, and many people with strong regional accents will deliberately lose them, because they feel they are not taken seriously because of it. My husband is from Virginia, but not long after moving out here, he got rid of his accent because he was tired of people assuming he was an idiot. Now he sounds just like every other Midwesterner, except when he's really tired or has had a few too many.
posted by Shoeburyness at 12:22 PM on August 14, 2003

Well I feel I should mention the International Dialects of English Archive, which also has many examples of varieties of English, with a much larger selection of native English accents.

I should also mention that the synthesized voice, Macintalk Fred, hasn't changed much since about 1993, although the world of synthesized speech has. Try the Speechify Challenge and sample the voices at Rhetorical and Scansoft to hear how natural-sounding modern TTS voices are. And see the speech synthesis article at Wikipedia for how this stuff works.
posted by nohat at 1:14 PM on August 14, 2003

How did they manage to find the only Brummie in the world that sounds like they're from Slough?
posted by influx at 1:30 PM on August 14, 2003

the "neutral" midwestern accent

It's interesting how people tend to assume that the accent wherever they are, or wherever they grew up is the "real" one. Not to pick on you specifically, Shoeburyness; I've had the same conversation in at least two widely separated cities -- Seattle and LA -- on the same subject. In both cases the locals argued, as you do, that 'here we talk like they do on TV,' so theirs must be the Real Original U.S. of A.

I suspect it's the other way around: to the extent that there is a standard dialect in the US, it's because we all watch more or less the same TV programs (and to a lesser extent because we tend to move around a lot.) Here I am on the east coast, now, and guess what: except for the rare Olde New England holdout, everybody here talks like they do on TV. I do wonder where that accent originated, but I'd bet against the midwest. Burbank, more likely.

(Also, I suspect that call centers in the midwest are there more because of local wages than "because of the neutrality of the local accent" -- if that were the case, there wouldn't be so many of them in the deep south or, as you say, India.)
posted by ook at 3:06 PM on August 14, 2003

It's amazing how varied accents can be across a small geographic range, but it's also interesting that it's not always so. As people have pointed out, you can (or used to be able to) tell what street a Londoner or New Yorker grew up on by their accent. In contrast, there are only very slight differences in Australian accent between entire cities - something I doubt many non-Australians would ever pick up on because it's so slight. Melbourne people are a bit harsher, Adelaide a bit posher, Sydney has an upward inflection, making everything sound like a question, while in north Queensland / Northern Territory it's a slow drawl.

Does anyone have any good links explaining how accents develop? Why is the New Zealand accent (unfortunately, no examples on the website above) different from the Australian one - simple "drift" through isolation, or because of the slightly different ethnic mix (ie. more Scottish settlers in New Zealand)
posted by Jimbob at 8:31 PM on August 14, 2003

Why is the New Zealand accent different from the Australian one

The Australian accent as we know it today is primarily a "strain" accent, which is why it's sometimes called Strine. It's brought about by the intense, all-consuming fear that somewhere, maybe right around the corner, is a drop bear with your name on it. This induces strain on the vocal cords and alters the accent towards what we hear.

No drop bears, different accent. Duh.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:24 PM on August 14, 2003

ook, the call centers in India are staffed by Indians who have been trained to have American accents, adopt American names while working, and are given lot of American TV shows to watch so the unsuspecting American customer can chit-chat with "Bob" about baseball without realizing he's really talking to Krishna who's really more interested in cricket. And the local paper said in an article many years ago that the local accent was the reason for several call centers being located there, and in neighboring Wyoming. Unfortunately it's a Mickey mouse paper and doesn't have on-line searchable archives. The cost of living in Colorado Springs is not very cheap, especially for the size of the city.
posted by Shoeburyness at 10:40 PM on August 14, 2003

JimBob: you forgot to mention Tasmania. I had a couple of Tasmanian university lecturers -- I used to just sit there and listen to their amazing accents. Kind of like a distilled, or hyper-Australian (or else some kind of powertool). And let's not forget Ricky Ponting and Angie Hart -- what's not to love about their accents?

As for the NZ accent, whatever it was that caused the divergence had happened quite early -- 1880s-90s at the latest. Katherine Mansfield (b. 1888) and Ernest Rutherford (b. 1871), for instance, both had one, apparently. The New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation made field recordings in the 1940s of first generation New Zealanders (born after 1850) -- these have recently been analysed by the ONZE (Origins of New Zealand English) project at the University of Canterbury.

There's an article that summarizes some of the research to date (Donn Bayard, 'New Zealand English: Origins, Relationships, Prospects') online here, if you're interested (8 pages, PDF).
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:05 AM on August 15, 2003

Listen to the Italian -- Siciliano

I love his truncated comment/expression at the end!
posted by RubberHen at 2:12 AM on August 17, 2003

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