Edwardian phonetics.

Un documentaire de la BBC fascinant, même si le ton du personnage principal peut ennuyer, sur les dialectes de l’Angleterre du début du 20ème siècle : conservés par les chercheurs allemand étudiant des prisonniers de guerre.

Disponnible sur one Google Video ou (en meilleur qualité) Guba.com.

The BBC documentary How The Edwardians Spoke presents audio recordings of English speakers from various dialect areas, made in 1917: German dialectologists and sound recording specialists of the time travelled around the German prisoner-of-war camps to record samples of foreign dialects. These are unusual and quite stunning documents, preserved on hundreds of shellac records.

I won’t embed the video this time — the one on Google Video is of rather poor quality, and I’m not sure how long the much better version on Guba.com will stick around. Both are downloadable — get it while it’s hot if you’re interested in this sort of thing, or watch on the web-page.

Proto-IPA Germany 1917

In addition to simply hearing these 100-year-old voices, and comparing them to what we know about the speech of these regions, dialect-shift, etc., there was one small bit that stood out to me in particular: The hand-written transcriptions of the German researchers, most likely produced by the Austrian-German professor of language and literature Alois Brandel, noted down in an early version of what was to become the International Phonetic Alphabet (click on the image for a larger version — it’s perfectly readable). I certainly should read up on the history of the IPA — there’s not much online, it seems. What appears to be the case, though, is that when their countries weren’t at war with each others, these German researchers and their British and other counterparts were part of the same intellectual environment.

I found the film via Crooked Timber, where Kieran Healy calls it “ponderous”. Indeed, I find it is even worse — Joan Washington, the personality who guides the viewer through the entire documentary, is a voice coach for actors and a “specialist in English accents” only in this particular, very practical sense. I find her overbearing manner and judgmental attitude to pronunciation features (monophthongs “lazier” than diphthongs and the like) rather hard to swallow, and her systematic linking-up of landscape and dialect features is rather quaint. But then, as an accent coach she will have to have developed some ad-hoc methods of getting her material across to students who, most likely, have no formal training in phonetics. Interesting to see that she is indeed using IPA to note down pronunciations she gleans in an new place — this is of course what you’d naively expect, but I’ve become wary of assuming IPA knowledge, which in places like Germany or France is successfully and routinely taught, in rudimentary form, to children aged 10 or 11, in the English-speaking world at any level.

BBC “Word 4 Word”

Word 4 Word est une nouvelle émission de la BBC Radio 4 sur la langue, liée à son projet de documentation des dialectes britanniques, Voices.

La première épisode est programmée pour aujourd’hui, dans une heure à peu près.

Je vous ferai un topo sur les émissions deradio sur la langue un de ces jours.

BBC Radio 4 has a new programme#[1] on language which will air once a week through August and September: Word 4 Word . It is part of the BBC Voices project and produced with the Open University, so this might be quite interesting.

Quoting Dermot Murnaghan off the Voices page:

Language is a badge. We wear it like invisible uniform that declares where we come from, what we do, whom we like to talk to and hang out with.

In the former pit villages of Northumberland, the winding gear is silent now. The wholesale closure of most of Britain’s coalmines saw to that. But what of the rich, distinctive dialect that made Ashington distinct from Bedlington, and Seaton Delaval different from market-town Morpeth? […]

“Word 4 Word” is all about local talk, about this sense of belonging as expressed through the words we use to frame our thoughts. But what we’re trying to do, too, is investigate some of the big changes that are underway in the vernacular of regional Britain. Not so much the decline of dialect as its evolution.

The first programme of this series airs (”nets”? “cables”?) today at 9 a.m. BST (that’s in just about an hour) and will be available (Real Audio — as far as I can tell they aren’t podcasting it yet) from the linked site, probably for the next week or so.

I’ll have a listen and may be reporting back on language-related radio shows. There’s quite a large variety of those around.

[1]: This is one of the few Brit-spelled words that I always want to Ami-spell. Computer science oblige.

An interesting site: Les Accents des Français:

We — the authors of this site — are two students at the École des Mines [a prestigious civil engineering school — C.W.] in Paris and victims of the speech “standardisation” that these pages are concerned with… since we speak “accent-free” French. We recognise that a heritage is in peril: the wealth of regional pronunciations of our language. This site understands itself as a modest but enthusiastic initiative to “defend and illustrate” the idioms of our country before all of us speak with a Parisian accent!

[Nous - les auteurs de ce site - sommes deux étudiants de l’Ecole des Mines de Paris, victimes de la “standardisation” du parler qui sera évoquée dans ces pages… puisque nous parlons un français “sans accent”. Nous constatons qu’un patrimoine est en péril, la richesse des prononciations régionales de notre langue. Ce site veut être une initiative - modeste mais enthousiaste - pour “défendre et illustrer” les parlers de notre pays, avant que nous ayons tous l’accent de Paris!]

This is obviously the work of amateurs; the site favours the phonetic characteristics (eschewing all technical or academic terms) over lexicon or syntax. It offers a coherent collection of recordings of speech samples harvested in 14 regions of France, with transcriptions and brief introductions.

More Scots

Lien vers un beau document audio en anglais écossais.

  • 2004-08-25
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Yet another English audio document in an accent other than Estuary English (also known as “BBC English ”) or what is sometimes called “General American”: Here are excerpts from several of poems by Robert Burns read in a Scottish accent. Via Blogging in Paris, from where Claude Covo-Farchi remarks on the “translation” of the film title […]

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