Stephen Hawking to get English accent
April 17, 2001 5:38 PM   Subscribe

Stephen Hawking to get English accent "Prof Hawking dislikes the American accent of his electronic voice that's transmitted from the computerised machine fixed to his wheelchair." The award for bizarre pullquote: "I have some nice English accents on my Macintosh -- Mr Vickram Crishna"
posted by mgtrott (23 comments total)
Slightly longer (and thus more parsable) original in The Times.
posted by dhartung at 5:46 PM on April 17, 2001

Thanks for posting that link. I couldn't find the original.
posted by mgtrott at 6:29 PM on April 17, 2001

One of my favorite Onion stories was "Stephen Hawking Builds Robotic Exoskeleton" at least he'll have a proper voice to go with it.
posted by briank at 6:36 PM on April 17, 2001

I kind of liked hearing him sound like a Speak 'n' Spell.
posted by lagado at 7:29 PM on April 17, 2001

I'll always remember him like this.
posted by gimli at 8:10 PM on April 17, 2001

That was bad form on my part. The wav is from Clay's Sound Emporium.
posted by gimli at 8:20 PM on April 17, 2001

Gee, so is Stephen Hawking going to play the part of Bridget now, too?

(Sorry, bad taste, but I really couldn't resist...)
posted by SpecialK at 8:42 PM on April 17, 2001

Tell me this WAV doesn't sound British to you.

The Radiohead song, by the way, uses one of the Mac's voices (as do the MC Hawking tracks). Sounds like DECtalk, kinda, but not exactly.
posted by kindall at 9:21 PM on April 17, 2001

If I were Hawking, I'd see if they could give me a variety of interesting voices and accents from which to choose. For starters, maybe Winston Churchill, Peter Lorre, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Greenwood, Erico Caruso, the robot on Lost in Space, and Jane, his ex-wife, so that he could mock her perfectly when he was feeling nasty.
posted by pracowity at 11:10 PM on April 17, 2001

How "American" is his voice? There's a great deal of America with its own accents. I don't see his voice as being American as much as it being accentless by default.

Ah you Americans really crack me up!
posted by lagado at 11:58 PM on April 17, 2001

lol, lagado. A friend of mine went to Cornell in upstate NY to get her M.A. and Ph.d; she had to "get" an American accent for the years she was there because the clerks she dealt with everyday couldn't understand her perfectly pronounced and enunciated syllables. I have to slur words and talk slowly when I visit the US because I encounter tons of people who apparently don't understand english unless I'm speaking it the exact same way they do.
posted by lia at 1:36 AM on April 18, 2001

I seem to remember hearing a story that Hawking had been offered an upgrade before, but had declined it. Apparently this was because it didn't 'sound like him'. Maybe the availability of an English accent changed his mind.
His current system is made by these guys.
posted by viama at 4:50 AM on April 18, 2001

What's up with all this don't-want-to-sound-American-ness anyway? Madonna has it too. Oh well. It could be worse...
posted by frednorman at 5:14 AM on April 18, 2001

lia said: lol

Oh, that's such a funny story. Those imbecile Americans who can only understand a dumbed down, 'slurred' version of 'perfectly pronounced and enunciated' English. What a thigh-slapper. No wait, what a crock.

On a less facetious note, I am an American who lives in Wien. I have been told by more than one Wiener that I speak English with no accent at all. That means no British accent, no New York accent, no Boston accent, no Texas accent (which is where I originated). To them, my English is 'accentless'.
posted by syzygy at 7:46 AM on April 18, 2001

I guess his career as a hip hop artist is over...
posted by SilentSalamander at 8:20 AM on April 18, 2001

We 'murricans shure do tawk dumb.

Lordy. What a nonissue. I'm a trained actor who has studied dialects quite a bit, and "Standard American," or, sometimes "Mid-Atlantic" is, if you think about it, a stupid myth. Probably the closest anyone who actually lives in the USA gets to this mainly Hollywood-imposed ideal is (spoiler: I live here) the Pacific Northwest and certain regions of the Midwest. But even within those boundaries lie innumerable regional dialects, and that's ignoring the nose-on-your-face examples of American Southern accents, New Jersey Tawkin, California Surf-Drawl, and Boston Standard Unintelligible.

And British? Christ. The model for "good theatah" (read: Shakespeare, or perhaps Tom Stoppard if you're lazy) would be Elevated Southern British. Of course, then you get to conveniently ignore Liverpudlian, Cockney, or Mayfair, to name a few.

Sorry, lia. I don't buy it. But I probably just didn't hear you correctly.
posted by Skot at 8:49 AM on April 18, 2001

I encounter tons of people who apparently don't understand english unless I'm speaking it the exact same way they do.

I doubt that's exactly the case. They're probably less used to hearing your particular accent and style of speaking. My father-in-law is a northern Missouri dairy farmer. He's got a particular way of speaking that is common in the area, but not familiar to my (central Arkansan) ears. It took me many many visits and talks with him to understand what he's saying, and sometimes I still have trouble.

I'm no linguist or psychologist, but it seems to me that people probably listen the way they read--not concentrating on each individual word or sound/character but on groups of words they are used to seeing/hearing. So just as it can be more difficult to read text written in a strange font or written in unfamiliar syntax, it would probably also be more difficult to understand what is being said by someone who speaks with not only different pronunciation and accent, but also with a different cadence and even different word choice.

Most likely British individuals are more familiar with the American peculiarities of speaking than Americans are with the British peculiarities.

As for Americans being accentless, that's just silly.
posted by daveadams at 8:53 AM on April 18, 2001

I once embarrassed a poor booth bunny at a Boston trade show nearly to death. I made her repeat "Put yah cahd in the jah for the drahring" three times before I understood what she was saying. She was bright red by the time I pulled out a business card and put it in the jar. For the drawing.
posted by kindall at 10:29 AM on April 18, 2001

As for Americans being accentless, that's just silly.

not if you work from the premise that american speech is the base line from which all other speech is judged; that america is the centre of the universe and the ultimate arbiter of truth and justice.

but of course, no one thinks that.

posted by fuzzygeek at 11:42 AM on April 18, 2001

Quite a conflict. Hawking has probably the most recognizable voice in the western world. And yet, he hates it. Being pragmatic, he wants to upgrade his communications tool, and yet, he risks losing his identity. (I suppose he probably consdiered this and doesn't really care.... I would care!)
posted by rschram at 3:54 PM on April 18, 2001

Hell, I want a british accent too. Drives the women crazy.
posted by SpecialK at 4:21 PM on April 18, 2001

Right, that's it - I'm emigrating :-)
posted by viama at 5:28 AM on April 19, 2001

Didn't Ned do this on South Park?
posted by melissa at 12:03 PM on April 19, 2001

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