I could have sworn I’d posted about this back when it was in the news a few years ago, but apparently not, and better late than never:

The Berliner Lautarchiv British & Commonwealth Recordings is a subset of an audio archive made between 1915 and 1938 by German sound pioneer, Wilhelm Doegen. Enlisting the support of numerous academics, Doegen sought to capture the voices of famous people, and languages, music and songs from all over the world. The collection acquired by the British Library in 2008 comprises 821 digital copies of shellac discs held at the Berliner Lautarchiv at the Humboldt Universität. It includes recordings of British prisoners of war and colonial troops held in captivity on German soil between 1915 and 1918 and later recordings made by Doegen in Berlin and on field trips to Ireland and elsewhere. The content of the recordings varies and includes reading passages, word lists, speeches and recitals of songs and folk tales in a variety of languages and dialects.

Maev Kennedy, in a 2009 Grauniad story, discusses the British POW angle:

“It’s interesting that there seems to have been no attempt to capture what you might call officer class voices; it was clearly the regional accents that he wanted,” said Jonathan Robinson, curator of social science at the library. “Among the most interesting is the voice from Bletchington – now so close to London it’s barely perceived as having an accent, but I think people would be startled to realise what how West Country the accent of rural Oxfordshire sounded at that time.”
He is particularly fond of the many Yorkshire voices: “That was how my own grandparents would have sounded – but it certainly isn’t how I sound now.”

Thanks, Jeff!


  1. new era 59fifty says:

    she has been beat by your ex spouse, in Honest Memo rial Property Cathedral. which in turn afterwards started to be Ginsburg, Mailing Program. He dished up his / her chapel while Fiscal Overseer with the chapel as well as the Child Advancement Heart.
    Jimmy Voss and also the girl
    [spam links deleted, poetic text remains –LH]

  2. > I could have sworn I’d posted about this back when it was in the news a few years ago, […]
    I, too, could have sworn that you had . . .

  3. (1) Your current batch of anti-Bayesian comment spam is poetry.
    (2) The amazing new National Jukebox archive at the Library of Congress ( has a trove of spoken-language recordings from ca. 1900 to 1925. These include dialect comedy routines and political speeches, and for me it was the speeches that came as an enlightening surprise. I expected Woodrow Wilson to speak with a southern accent, for instance, but he didn’t. Score one for the idea of prestige dialects. On the other hand, the Ohioan Warren G. Harding spoke with a regional accent thicker than any I’ve heard in Ohio in my lifetime. Score one more for confirmation of the homogenizing effect of radio.

  4. I can’t help wondering if “Beleuchtung” was somehow triggered by “Bletchington.”

  5. Twenty-five years ago when we lived in Oz I listened to a radio programme of interviews with surviving ANZAC soldiers from the Great War. What struck me was that hardly one had an Aussie accent – they virtually all had regional English accents.

  6. dearie, my great uncle emigrated to Australia after having served at Gallipoli during WW1 next to the ANZACs. I think he had to hold their horses, he was only 16 and keen on riding. Anyway, despite never returning to England he never acquired a proper Australian accent (I only knew him in the 1970s).

  7. I believe the government of New Zealand has an audio archive of speakers born in the 19th century. Interesting because the evolution of the NZ accent can be traced. Unfortunately there is no equivalent for Australia, although there was a project to try to collect data by looking at things like trial transcripts and newspaper stories. I remember a previous discussion but I’m not sure where. It may have been Crooked Timber.

  8. I linked to the Guardian story a couple of years ago at an unrelated thread. AJP commented on it.

  9. I think we commented on the strange pronunciation of ‘father’ (‘fayther’).

  10. Graham Asher says:

    I, for one, welcome our new spam overlords – not.

  11. Ah, that will be why I had the déja vu feeling.

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