SPEECH ACCENT ARCHIVE.

“The speech accent archive uniformly presents a large set of speech samples from a variety of language backgrounds. Native and non-native speakers of English read the same paragraph and are carefully transcribed. The archive is used by people who wish to compare and analyze the accents of different English speakers.” From the About page:

The speech accent archive is established to uniformly exhibit a large set of speech accents from a variety of language backgrounds. Native and non-native speakers of English all read the same English paragraph and are carefully recorded. The archive is constructed as a teaching tool and as a research tool. It is meant to be used by linguists as well as other people who simply wish to listen to and compare the accents of different English speakers…
All of the linguistic analyses of the accents are available for public scrutiny. We welcome comments on the accuracy of our transcriptions and analyses.

They include “a phonetic transcription of the sample, a set of the speaker’s phonological generalizations, a link to a map showing the speaker’s place of birth, and a link to the Ethnologue language database,” as well as a set of native language phonetic inventories. The archive is a project of the Program in Linguistics, the Technology across the Curriculum Program, and the Center for History and New Media of George Mason University. (Thanks for the heads-up, Bonnie!)
Addendum. KanTalk, a “space to practice spoken English or any other languages,” has a collection of recordings (currently 248) of the “Please call Stella” paragraph read by people from all sorts of linguistic backgrounds; you can record your own version if you like.

Comments

  1. Doug Sundseth says:

    “[P]lace of birth” seems a thin reed on which to hang generalizations about accents. TCKs (Third-Culture Kids) constitute an ever-increasing part of the population, and it seems unlikely to be useful to categorize such people by birthplace.
    Is there any filtering mechanism to remove these samples from the database?

  2. Sociologist David Pollock describes a TCK as “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership of any.
    Kipling didn’t have full ‘ownership,’ of British culture? I’m certain that would have surprised him!

  3. I think place of birth should be replaced by place of elementary or secondary education. I never said more than “mama” in the place I was born–in Kentucky while my Virginian father was in seminary–and I grew up among people who spoke English either with a typical Japanese accent (which I can replicate pretty well) or with a variety of mostly Southern American accents. Nevertheless, I had purged most of my regional accent by the time I reached high school.
    Some of the missionaries spoke Japanese with appalling foreign accents, but many spoke quite fluently, and I would be very interested to see a similar compilation of nonnative accents in Japanese.
    Despite all that, I think the concept of TCKs has been oversold, partly by cross-cultural psychologists in search of clients, partly by self-promoting internationalists. In fact, the parents of TCKs, are usually living outside their own culture, adapting their own language and behavior to both a surrounding dominant “second” culture, plus a weird mix of other foreigners they frequently interact with. They’re already creolizing.
    Although I’m much more open to the concept of mixed languages than most linguists (from studying New Guinea languages), in such case, too, it almost always turns out on closer examination that one heritage predominates linguistically, although another may dominate culturally. (I’m far more American than Japanese, both linguistically and culturally.) In short, the idea of excluding TCKs from providing language samples seems to resurrect Neogrammarian, or at least pre-Labovian, ideas of imagined linguistic purity. Ain’t no such thing, and hardly ain’t never been, IMHO.

  4. Doug Sundseth says:

    I agree that the TCK thing has been oversold. The experience is different from the typical (as I think you might agree), but not so different as to be unrecognizable.
    That said, TCK seemed a reasonable shorthand in this context for kids born somewhere with an accent unrelated to the accent of their parents and to that of their peers during their first N years of life. FWIW, I was born in Minnesota, spent most of my life before first grade in California, Colorado, and Idaho, and spent much of 1st grade and all of 2nd grade in the Tidewater region of Virginia.
    I’m sure there are pieces of all of the accents of all of those areas in my surviving accent (I recognize some of the pieces), but it’s surely not representative of Minnesota. Adding such an accent to a database as a Red River Valley accent would be misleading.

  5. “Sorry, Doug, but we don’t think you’re quite right for ‘Fargo’. We appreciate your thinking of us.”

  6. Doug Sundseth says:

    Geez, I can do that accent better than those actors did, anyway. I just need to repress the occasional “All y’all want a sodapop with that hotdish?”

  7. Being a second-generation Mexican-American, and of fifth generation German Jew, what then does that make me? And if my father’s father lived on the East Coast for at least a third of a lifetime, so he carried with him the Jersey accent, then exactly what am I? Am I a SCK, or Second Culture Kid, or a Third Culture Kid?
    Or am I just messed the (bunny) up? O messed the plunk up?
    btw, I’m with Joel on the above posting. Don’t exclude us, for the love of Pete.

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