The Speech Accent Archive: The English Accents of People Who Speak 341 Different Languages

Over the years, I’ve met with several foreign speaking partners. Through conversation, I learn their language — Spanish, Korean, Japanese — and they learn mine — English. Many of them first got serious about their study of that more-or-less-international tongue with the goal of completely eliminating their native accent which, while demonstrably possible, takes so much additional effort as an adult that I’ve always advised them to just spend that time learning another language (or two) instead. Many, of course, come to that conclusion themselves, realizing that English speakers all over the world have created a legitimate culture of speaking English in all kinds of different ways, with all kinds of different accents, whether or not they learned the language from childhood. But it still makes one wonder: how many different accents do people speak it in? And what do they all sound like? Wonder no longer, for we have The Speech Accent Archive, created by Steven H. Weinberger of George Mason University’s Linguistics department, who introduces it in the video above.

The site, “established to uniformly exhibit a large set of speech accents from a variety of language backgrounds,” collects audio samples of native and non-Native English speakers all reading the same paragraph. This lets the user “compare the demographic and linguistic backgrounds of the speakers in order to determine which variables are key predictors of each accent,” demonstrating that “accents are systematic rather than merely mistaken speech.” You can browse by the speaker’s native language, by their region, or (presumably exciting for the linguists) by their “native phonetic inventory.” You’ll find English as spoken by native speakers of everything from French and Chinese to Urdu and Chaldean Neo Aramaic. Here in Seoul, South Korea, where I write this post, I certainly do meet people who sound just like this sample speaker, a 19-year-old woman from the city who began learning English at 17 and spent a few months studying in America. The page describes her accent as characterized by, among other things, “final obstruent devoicing,” “vowel shortening,” and “obstruent deletion.” But don’t let the site’s linguistics jargon deter you; the salute to the Speech Accent Archive just above will give you an idea of just how much fun you can have there. You can enter the The Speech Accent Archive here.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch 1990s Video of Sacha Baron Cohen Playing Christo, the Proto Borat (NSFW)

In 2005, a hirsute Kazakh journalist named Borat Sagdiyev ventured to America to make a documentary about “the Greatest Country in the World.” Along the way, he had extremely awkward conversations with politicians Bob Barr and Alan Keyes, unwittingly participated in a Gay Pride parade, and accidentally destroyed a gift shop filled with Confederacy memorabilia. When he visited a Virginia rodeo, he nearly caused a riot. Prior to the event, he praised the War on Terror — which got cheers — and then wished that “George W. Bush will drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq,” which got fewer cheers. He then sang the lyrics of the Kazakh national anthem to the tune of the “Star Spangle Banner.” That got boos.

Borat is, of course, a fictional character played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, made famous in his hugely successful 2006 movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. While his brand of gonzo comedy might not be everybody’s cup of tea, you have to admit he’s brave and weirdly dedicated to his craft. The cops were called over 90 times during the production of Borat and Baron Cohen never broke character once.

Of all of Baron Cohen’s characters – the dim-witted wannabe gangster Ali G and the equally oblivious gay fashionista Bruno, Borat is perhaps his most likeable, and therefore his most dangerous, character. He’s so naively ignorant, so benighted by provincial prejudices that he evokes a tone of kindly condescension from just about everyone he encounters – at least before they call the cops on him. And that condescension can prove to be a trap. Borat’s casual, jarringly overt homophobia, sexism and anti-Semitism can often lead interviewees to say things out loud that they wouldn’t normally say in front of a camera. When Borat stated, “We hang homosexuals in my country!” Bobby Rowe, the producer of that rodeo quipped: “That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

The first incarnation of Borat was a Moldavian journalist named Alexi who appeared on the Granada TV show F2F in the mid-90s. For the BBC Two show Comedy Nation, Baron Cohen turned Alexi into Christo from Albania. You can see a couple of his early skits as Christo. In the one up top, he tries the patience of famed socialite Lady Colin Campbell by insisting on carrying the train of her haute couture dress. Below that, Christo stumbles uncomprehendingly into the world of S&M. Both videos, as you might expect, are NSFW.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us


Journalist Murray Carpenter has written a new book about the world’s most popular drug — caffeine. And it answers questions that many coffee drinkers surely wonder about: Is caffeine addictive? What exactly does it do to our biochemistry? How does it gives us a jolt? And what health consequences does it have (or not have)? These questions all get answered in the book, Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us. And much of them were discussed when Carpenter recently visited my favorite radio program in San Francisco, KQED’s Forum. You can listen to the interview below:

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Digital Dubliners: Free, 21st Century Ways to Read Joyce’s Great Story Collection on its 100th Anniversary

Read nearly any critical commentary on James Joyce’s Dubliners, his 1914 collection of short stories that chronicle the lives of ordinary Irish residents of the title city, and you’re sure to come across the word “epiphany.” This is not some academic jargon, but the word Joyce himself used to describe the way that each story builds to a shock of recognition—often in the form of painful self-awareness—for key characters. Short-circuiting the typical climax-resolution-dénouement of conventional narrative, Joyce’s epiphanies give his stories a verisimilitude that can still feel very unsettling, given our typical expectations that realist fiction still obey the rules of fiction. Dramatic moments in our lives rarely have neat and tidy endings. But in stories like “Eveline,” “Araby,” “A Little Cloud,” and the collection’s capstone piece, “The Dead,” the often feckless characters find themselves paralyzed in states of existential dread by sudden flashes of self-knowledge, unable to assimilate new and painful insights into their limited perspectives.

That final story (adapted into John Huston’s final film) “elevates the book to the level of the supreme artworks of the 20th century,” writes Mark O’Connell in Slate. O’Connell’s essay commemorates the centenary of Dubliner’s publication this month. Dubliners remains, he writes, a book that “writers of the short story form seem basically resigned to never surpassing.” Written in the author’s early 20s, the stories, as Ulysses would eight years later, “reveal something profound and essential and unrealized about the city and its people”: “Dublin can feel less like a place that James Joyce wrote about than a place that is about James Joyce’s writing.” All of us non-Dubliners can enter the city through Joyce’s exquisite stories, and in an increasing variety of ways, thanks to digital technology. At the top of the post, find a digitized first edition of Dubliners. Just above, we have a reading of “Eveline” by “velvet-voiced” Dubliner Tadhg Hynes, and below, hear Irish actor Jim Norton read “The Sisters.”

You’ll find many more readings of Dubliners’ stories online, such as this deadpan reading of “Araby” from one of our favorites, Tom O’Bedlam, a Bloomsday reading of “Eveline” by award-winning Irish playwright Miriam Gallagher, and this Librivox collection of readings from various voices. I think Joyce would have very much appreciated the use of technology to keep his work alive into the 21st century. Part of his literary mission—certainly in many of Dubliners’ stories—was to illustrate the stultifying effects of clinging to the past. An eager adopter of new technologies, Joyce in fact brought the first cinema, The Volta, to Dublin in 1909. So it seems fitting that 100 years after the publication of Dubliners, his book receive the multimedia app treatment in the form of Digital Dubliners, a free, “engaging and authoritative edition” of the book designed by Boston College students and featuring “three hundred-odd images, seven hundred or so notes and explanations, two dozen videos, critical essays and hyperlinks, interactive maps sourced from contemporary newspaper, sound, film and photographic archives, with essays, film, recordings, background and expert discussion.” Watch a short promo video for Digital Dubliners below, and download the book on iTunes here.

Finally, you may wish to read the text in a more late-20th-century, and more open, format with this fully searchable “hypertextual, self-referential edition” prepared for Project Gutenberg. Whichever way you read Joyce’s Dubliners, you should, I presume to suggest, read Joyce’s Dubliners. And if you have read these stories before, even “somewhere in the double figures,” as Mark O’Connell has, then you’ll know how richly they reward re-reading, or hearing, or studying along with other readers and lovers of Joyce and a well-worn map of Dublin, or its shimmering touch-screen digital equivalent.

Dubliners also appears in our two collections, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free and 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones & The Beatles Played on a 3-String Electric Mountain Dulcimer

My parents always seemed to me to represent two very different strains of sixties counterculture. My mom loved Peter, Paul and Mary, Appalachian folk and bluegrass, and played the dulcimer and autoharp. My dad loved psychedelic rock, and had an extensive collection of Zeppelin, Beatles, Floyd, and Hendrix records. It wasn’t a Dylan-goes-electric-level disagreement, but their fond reminisces of the glory days could sometimes get a little tense. But as we’ve seen in decades since, folkies, hippies, and psych-rockers can come together, and not only in 70s folk-rock bands from California. Take Robert Plant and Allison Krauss’s fruitful and unlikely collaboration, for instance, or the dozens of Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones covers by dozens of flannel-clad indie folkers.

In the past decade or so, it almost came to seem like psychedelic blues-rock and mountain folk music had always made comfortable bedfellows, and maybe they had. (After all, Zeppelin included folk instruments on several of their classic songs, like John Paul Jones’ mandolin on “Going to California.”) As further evidence we have 3-string electric mountain dulcimer player Sam Edelstein, who covers classic rock songs on an instrument usually thought of as particularly gentle, delicate, and sweet, as its name implies. At the top, see Edelstein rip through a searing version of Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Just above, he does a killer take on the Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown,” and below, Edelstein plays an increasingly rocking cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together” at the National Mountain Dulcimer Competition. As uploader Contemporary Dulcimer states on Youtube, “the dulcimer’s roots may be in folk music, but it’s a natural rock & roll instrument.” Indeed. Who knew?

via Ultimate Classic Rock

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Free Archive of Audio Interviews with Rock, Jazz & Folk Legends Now on iTunes

joe smith interviews

Back in 2012, we told you about how the Library of Congress launched the Joe Smith Collection, an audio archive featuring 200+ interviews with legendary music artists, all recorded during the 1980s by Joe Smith while researching and writing his book Off the Record. The audio collection, still available on the web, has now been brought to iTunesU. And the iTunes collection has a virtue that the web archive doesn’t — it lets you download instead of stream the audio files.

If you’re a music junkie, you won’t want to miss the longform interviews with legendary figures like Dave Brubeck, Lou Reed, Paul McCartney, Joan Baez, Herbie Hancock, David Bowie, George Harrison, Yoko Ono, James Brown, Bo Diddley, Jerry Garcia, Christine McVie, Mick Jagger, Linda Ronstadt and more. Each interview runs 30-60 good minutes. You can enter the archive here.

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Hardware Wars: The Mother of All Star Wars Fan Films (and the Most Profitable Short Film Ever Made)

Back in 1977, San Francisco filmmaker Ernie Fosselius had the brainwave to make a spoof of a movie that had just come out. It was a risky move. Nobody had any sense that Star Wars would become the worldwide cultural phenomenon that it did. And just as George Lucas’s space opera earned staggering amounts of money, so did Fosselius’s parody, Hardware Wars. You can watch it above. Made for a mere eight grand, the 13-minute movie became a pre-internet viral hit and a staple on the festival circuit, ultimately earning over $1,000,000 – an unheard of haul for a short film. In fact, in terms of money spent versus money earned, Hardware Wars ended up being far more profitable than Star Wars. And it’s considered the most profitable short film ever made.

“I think a lot of the charm of that movie is the fact that we didn’t really know what we were doing,” said Scott Mathews, who donned a blonde wig to play the movie’s lead, Fluke Starbucker. The movie’s production is so gleefully cheap and half-assed that you can’t help but be charmed by it. Irons, toasters, and tape players are used in place of spaceships.

A canister vacuum cleaner stands in for R2D2, and Chewbacca appears to be a Cookie Monster puppet dyed brown. At one point, while on a desert planet of Tatooine, you see a beach-goer sauntering in the background. And Star Wars’s famous cantina scene is in this movie simply a stroll through a crowded tavern. If you know anything about the bar scene in 1970s San Francisco, you know that it was at least as weird as anything George Lucas managed to put up on the screen.

The often litigious Lucas reportedly really liked the movie, called it “cute.” He even invited Fosselius to voice the inconsolable sobs of Jabba the Hutt’s animal trainer after his beloved Rancor gets killed by Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi.

Hardware Wars ended up launching an entire subgenre of movie – the Star Wars fan film. And with the advent of Youtube and digital filmmaking technology, the ability of nerds and mavens to make increasingly sophisticated takes on Lucas’s universe became easier and easier. One of the better, and older, ones is Troops. A mash up of Star Wars and the reality TV series Cops, the short shows the challenges and the struggles of being an Imperial Stormtrooper. Check it out below.

via FilmmakerIQ

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.


Zeppelin Took My Blues Away: An Illustrated History of Zeppelin’s “Copyright Indiscretions”


Few have gone broke working in copyright law. Some, however, have gone broke breaking it. Others have built up enough of a reputation and fortune by bending the rules just far enough, though they still run the risk of, if not going financially bankrupt, then looking creatively bankrupt. The English rock band Led Zeppelin seems to have artfully walked just this line for decades, though their usage of the blues and folk songs that inspired them has more recently undergone some seriously high-profile examination in court. Even their signature “Stairway to Heaven” had a suit filed against it in May, “brought by the estate of the late musician Randy California against the surviving members of Led Zeppelin and their record label. The copyright infringement case alleges that the Zeppelin song was taken from the single ‘Taurus‘ by the 1960s band Spirit, for whom California served as lead guitarist.


Those looking to make up their own minds about the relevant issues of musical authorship here can look to Zeppelin Took My Blues Away, an “illustrated history of copyright indiscretions,” created in trading card format, and featuring clips for the purposes of comparison and contrast. In this post, we have the card and clips documenting the resemblances between “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus,” Randy California’s 1968 song. The series comes to 19 cards in total, including such perhaps excessively Zeppelin-borrowed tunes as Bert Jansch’s “Blackwaterside,” Ritchie Valens’ “Ohh, My Head,” Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love,” and Jake Holmes’ “Dazed and Confused.” The question of whether we can call Jimmy Page and Robert Plant reckless music thieves or simply artists making use of what came before — as all artists must — has no easy answer. I, for my part, can’t even imagine the legal drudgery required for a verdict in cases like this. Something tells me that nothing as fun as trading cards ever gets admitted as evidence.

LED ZEPPELIN “Stairway To Heaven” 1971

SPIRIT “Taurus” 1968

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.