Assignment 2: Regional accent survey
(Ten points toward the final grade. Due May 1st)
You are to select any two accents of English from the George Mason University Speech Accent Archive at http://accent.gmu.edu and compare their sounds, following the guidelines listed below.
1. Click on “Browse”(next to the earlobe) and then either click on “Speakers” or on “Atlas/ Regions” to begin the search for TWO speakers with accents that are interesting to you.
2. Each speaker’s page contains a paragraph with exactly the same wording (“Please call Stella…”), spoken by an individual from around the US or around the world. You will be able to listen to the speaker reading this passage by clicking on the Quicktime icon (which may appear as a black bar with indications of time elapsed, loudness, etc.) just above the paragraph.
3. To the right of the paragraph is a transcription of that paragraph in the International Phonetic Alphabet. (IPA charts of English vowels and consonants are provided on the last page of this assignment, for your convenience.) You will notice that, even though the wording of the passage is identical for all, the IPA transcription varies greatly from speaker to speaker, depending on regional accent, first language (if other than English), and personal idiosyncracies. For example, speakers from the US South tend to merge the syllables ‘-en-’ and ‘-in-’; the Southern pronunciation of “penny” sounds like “pinny” to a speaker of SAE. Listen to the high vowel at the beginning of the word ‘Wednesday’ as spoken by Speaker English25, from Atlanta: ‘W[ɪ]dnesday’ (When spoken by speaker English170, from Mississippi, that vowel is higher still: ‘W[i]dnesday’.)
4. You will notice that the IPA portion contains some additional punctuation marks (called ‘diacritics’), which provide an even more fine-grained transcription of the speaker’s pronunciation. A description of the most common diacritics is provided on the last page of this assignment, for those who are curious. But for this assignment, please ignore the diacritics in the IPA transcriptions.
5. Your task is to compare the accents of your TWO speakers by focusing on differences in the pronunciation of individual words. Do not simply copy the generalizations which are provided at the bottom of some of the pages. Rather, focus on some interesting differences between the pronunciations of individual words. If possible, point out any repeated examples of the same phenomenon. For example, speaker English170 begins the pronunciation of the vowel in ‘scoop’ in the center of the mouth — [əʊ], sounding rather like “uh-ooh”. This same phenomenon occurs in ‘spoons’ and ‘blue’. Now listen to how different these words sound when uttered by speaker English6, from Brooklyn, who uses the vowel [u] — pronounced far back in the mouth — for all three.
6. Point out at least TWELVE differences between the accents you have chosen. If a particular difference shows up in multiple words (such as in “scoop, spoons, blue”) you may certainly count each one separately. This part of your answer only needs to be a list of pronunciations, along with the written form, such as:
Brooklyn (English6) Atlanta (English25)
‘Wednesday’ [wɛnzde] [wɪnzdi]
‘five’ [faɪv] [fɑv]
‘store’ [stɔə ] [stɔəɹ] [and so on…]
Please underline, or put in boldface, the particular sound difference that you are pointing out. If there are two notable differences in the same word, you may count those separately, as well.
7. Provide a brief description of FOUR of the differences that you have listed. For example, in ‘store’, above, you might point out that the Brooklyn speaker omits the [ɹ]. Any additional commentary on these differences, such as the position within the word at which the difference is found, would certainly enhance your work. For example, you might point out that the Brooklyn speaker omits the [r] sound at the end of a syllable (‘store, for, her’) but not at (or near) the beginning of a syllable (‘red’, from’).
8. You may find a set of additional IPA characters, suitable for pasting into your document, at http://ipa.typeit.org (Handwritten submissions are also accepted, of course.)
9. Feel free to choose any variety of English listed in the GMU Speech Accent Archive, including foreign accents of English (from the Expanding Circle of nations which do not have a history of colonization by members of the Inner Circle of Anglophone nations, and/or do not give English any special administrative status). Those of you who choose at least one foreign accent of English may find yourselves at a disadvantage when non-English sounds find their way into the accent. In recompense, however, the Archive has provided links to the phonetic inventory of the speaker’s native language. For example, speaker French 23, from Belgium, pronounces the word ‘for’ as [fɔʁ]. You can click on “native language: French” to the left of the paragraph and observe that the English sound [ɹ] is missing from the French consonant inventory, but the related sound [ʁ] is indeed present. The speaker seems to be using her native French “fricative” [ʁ] (or the similar-sounding trilled [ʀ]) in place of the English [ɹ] in words such as ‘for, from, frog, brother’. This is worth noting.
10. Have fun with this! Point 6. does not have only twelve ‘right’ answers. There are any number of differences between these accents of English that are worth pointing out. You will receive ample points for careful work, accurate transcriptions, and thoughtful comments.
Some common diacritics:
~ nasalization (air escapes through the nose)
: length (the sound is of longer than average duration)
h aspiration (a puff of air can be heard after the release of a consonant closure)
̥ voicelessness (the vocal cords do not vibrate)
ɣ velarization (the sound is pronounced at the back of the mouth, as in the [l] of ‘call’)