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The Accent Archive

11/06/06

  10:52:45 pm, by Nimble   , 424 words  
Categories: Distractions, Thoughts, Languages

The Accent Archive

Link: http://accent.gmu.edu/

Ah, a web project after my own heart. The Accent Archive is a project in which speakers of many backgrounds read the following paragraph:

Please call Stella. Ask her to bring these things with her from the store: Six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob. We also need a small plastic snake and a big toy frog for the kids. She can scoop these things into three red bags, and we will go meet her Wednesday at the train station.

You can browse by native language, and pick a speaker, then listen to the way they say it (Quicktime required).

The phonetic transcription is something you often see in many dictionaries, but may rarely pay attention to. Someone went to a fair bit of effort to transcribe these. There are many more symbols here than in standard English dictionaries, representing throaty r sounds or hollow d sounds, etc. It uses the International Phonetic Alphabet.

A linguistics junkie like me knows some of the things they list at the bottom of the page. Looking at one of the German pages, you see at the bottom, "Interdental fricative to stop".

Linguistic terms often refer to where the tongue is. Interdental means "between the teeth". Fricative means that you're basically forcing air through. That combination is the sound at the beginning of "think".

A "stop" is a consonant that... stops. You stop the airflow to make one of these. The letter sounds for t, p and k are examples.

What this means is that German speakers often turn interdental fricatives like the "th" in "think" into stops when they are speaking English, so "think" comes out "tink".

"Final obstruent devoicing" means that where native English speakers make their s sounds into z sounds when near other voiced sounds (like vowels, d, m, n, l, r, and anything else where your vocal cords are buzzing), Germans will tend to keep them as an S sound. So our houses, we would say "how-zez", but Germans may turn into "how-zess" or "how-sess".

A neat feature on the site is if you click on one of those linguistic things on the bottom, places where the speaker could have had an 'error' in speaking English are marked in blue, places where they actually committed the 'error' are marked in red.

Of course, if you're trying to imitate a foreign accent, intentionally committing these 'errors' will help you on your way :)

Looks like a labour of love, that site does!

2 comments

Comment from: Adam [Member]  
Adam

While working on a linguistics degree at university, my sister did something very similar. She had a group of people listen to speakers with French Canadian, English Canadian and English accents (male and female) who read the same generic piece, and then evaluated their responses to it. Alas, I can’t recall the results, but there were a number of interesting answers in terms of who sounded knowledgeable, who sounded approachable and so on. I’ll have to see if she still has it lying around.

11/07/06 @ 14:02
Comment from: Nimble [Member]  
Nimble

I would find that pretty darned interesting. If it’s not too much of an imposition, please get her to dig it out :)

11/08/06 @ 01:52