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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Learn 48 Lan­guages Online for Free: Span­ish, Chi­nese, Eng­lish & More

A Brief Tour of British Accents: 14 Ways to Speak Eng­lish in 84 Sec­onds

Peter Sell­ers Presents The Com­plete Guide To Accents of The British Isles

What Shake­speare Sound­ed Like to Shake­speare: Recon­struct­ing the Bard’s Orig­i­nal Pro­nun­ci­a­tion

Peter Sell­ers Reads The Bea­t­les’ “She Loves You” in Four Dif­fer­ent Accents

Free Eng­lish Lessons

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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  • Llewellyn Kriel says:

    The prob­lem with the script, of course, is that it’s in “Amer­i­can­lish” gram­mar lack­ing prepo­si­tions and using ter­mi­nol­o­gy that is alien to native Inter­na­tion­al Eng­lish speak­ers. This will invari­ably mean they have to rehearse, run­ning the risk of unnat­ur­al into­na­tion. Alter­na­tive­ly, they will ren­der the script in a form of inter­pre­ta­tive copy­cat speech — also end­ing up sound­ing mechan­i­cal.

    Nonethe­less, as a pure­ly fun aca­d­e­m­ic exer­cise it has some val­ue. ;-)

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