The University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences has created the website Sound Comparisons “to provide an overview of the variety of the sounds of the English language on various levels: in time, with our transcriptions of historical ancestor forms of English, from present-day back to Late Modern English, Early Modern, Middle and Old English, as far back even as Proto-Germanic; over geographical space; by sociolinguistic context.” More details can be found at their Information page; of the historical element, they say:

Obviously, we cannot provide recordings of the various historical stages in the development of English, but linguistic analyses do make it possible to work out what the likely pronunciations were to a reasonable degree of accuracy. With each step further into the past, however, the more and more we ‘reconstruct’, the more linguists’ confidence in the real phonetic accuracy of our transcriptions necessarily reduces. All our transcriptions for historical varieties are therefore always to be taken with this caveat in mind.

An interesting site; thanks, Paul!


  1. Truly fascinating site. I checked out the New Zealand page and was pleased that I could actually hear the accent. I was also left wondering if there’s any way to find out the ethnicity of the speaker, as the intonation sounded like Maaori English to my Pakeha ears.

  2. Do you suppose they will hire M. J. Harper as a consultant?

  3. Sorry about that, wrong thread.

  4. I dunno… I only looked up the Ohio, USA accent, since I’m from Cleveland, and they chose someone from near the southern border of the state. To me, he almost sounds like he could have been from Alabama, so different is it from my accent.
    But I’ve encountered this in a lot of dialect literature, such that I have very little trust in it. Some of the stuff that Labov notes about the Cleveland accent, well, I’ve never heard it in my life, such that it seems he is describing a different city than my own. Or maybe he only looked at one part of town? I dunno…
    Same with John M. Lipski’s _Latin American Spanish_. Basically all of what is said about Oaxacan Mexican Spanish, well, I just didn’t hear when I lived there. What’s going on?

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