Monday, March 14, 2005

Speech Accent Archive

The Speech Accent Archive, run by Steven Weinberger at George Mason University, will celebrate its sixth birthday next month. It's an ugly and hard-to-use site, but for anyone with more than a passing interest in phonetics, dialectology or, for that matter, the teaching of English pronunciation to non-native speakers, it's a treasure trove.

With currently 414 speech samples available, the Archive "examines the accented speech of speakers from many different language backgrounds reading the same sample paragraph." Each sample receives a close phonetic transcription in IPA and is subjected to analysis presented as "phonological generalizations". These generalisations list of features which the sample deviates from GAE (General American English), the most widely accepted, "standard" variety of American speech.

Currently, recordings of seven native Japanese speakers are available. Like the speaker from Kawasaki, who is very good, they're mostly far above average and avoid many of the most typical Japanese patterns of sub-standard pronunciation. Click on the "i" icon for an analysis of each speaker's accent.

The Japanese consonant and vowels charts, reproduced from Maddieson's Patterns of Sounds, go some way towards explaining the speech habits that Japanese speakers bring to learning foreign languages.

The Speech Accent Archive requires the Quicktime player.

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