Research Wonk: How Do You Say That?

I’ve been in a couple of different shows where I’ve tried a British accent of one kind or another, but because I’m me, I always find myself neck deep in accent research. Most of the time, it’s not really essential to what I’m doing (I have something workable already), but any excuse to try to take apart accents is one I’m likely to take.

In any case, I’m back at it again. For both sharing and link-parking reasons, here are a few of the resources I’ve enjoyed in the past, and have been using to various degrees this time, too:

For accents of English in general, the International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA) is a nice starting point. Each person, identified by age, is reading one of only a couple of different passages, which is especially helpful when trying to differentiate between two similar regional accents. It’s global, too, so there’s a lot of different nations’ takes on English to uncover.

For UK accents in particular, I also quite love the British Library’s accents and dialects section. Where IDEA has a wider spread, the British Library collection has a much deeper store on UK accents. It collects several different language and accent projects. While they don’t use the leveling device of having folks read the same passage, it’s hard to mind all the different stories folks tell in the interviews, which give a look not just at the sound of the language, but of the culture and local traditions in which they exist. A fair number of older folk are the specific focus of some of the cultural preservation projects collected there, as well, which helps to give a slightly less contemporary take on a given accent.

This go around, too, I’ve found that memes are useful for more than just LOLcats. Apparently there was a meme a while back going by either “accent challenge” or “accent tag.” And there seems to be a pretty wide spread of UK residents who took up the banner and posted their videos to YouTube. So, “accent tag Welsh” or “accent tag Norfolk,” for example, bring up a fair sampling of natives of the given region. It’s clear the meme was of US origin, as one of the questions (“what do you call it when you throw toilet paper on a house?”) seems to stump just about everyone from the UK, but otherwise, it’s also a fairly compact glance at differences between regional accents.

As you might imagine, the YouTube tag has a lot more younger people participating, so it’s a more contemporary look at the dialects. And, since it requires a web-enabled camera and Internet access, it likely self-selects out some measure of lower class samples (indeed, there were a reasonable handful of folks who felt they should mention that they speak a bit more “posh” than others in their area), but it’s still useful, I think, especially, again, for regional comparisons.

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