Site Methodology

The Sounds Familiar site was developed for a target audience of A-Level English Language students and undergraduates studying English Language or Linguistics. The site explores aspects of regional variation and elements of change and continuity within spoken English. The content was selected to focus above all on features of spoken English that can be illustrated and supported by actual examples taken from authentic speech. As a result it has not been possible to provide examples of all aspects of spoken language – phenomena such as style shifting or speech accommodation are not included, for instance. These and other aspects of communication are extremely difficult to capture spontaneously and we have consciously sought to avoid using ‘staged’ recordings. The primary focus of the site is the recordings; the analysis, commentaries and suggested activities follow only from what can actually be heard.

Audio Content

This site contains 42 annotated dialect recordings from across the UK: 11 recordings of traditional dialect in England and 31 recordings of contemporary dialect from across the UK. There are also 6 recordings of RP speakers and 7 recordings of speakers from minority ethnic backgrounds. There is a transcript and commentary to accompany each recording alongside suggestions for research activities and links to other recordings. A small number of unmediated recordings are also provided – 7 from England, 3 from Scotland, 2 each from Wales, Northern Ireland and Ethnic Minority groups and one RP speaker.

Interpretation and Learning Packages

The site contains interpretation and learning packages relating to the dual themes of regional voices and changing voices. These themes are explored using audio clips, supporting texts and interactive maps to illustrate the lexis (vocabulary), grammar and phonology (pronunciation) of contemporary spoken English as well as introducing the concept of social variation. Three case studies are included to provide an in-depth look at specific varieties of English. A set of audio clips focuses on Received Pronunciation, while a number of audio clips is provided to investigate Geordie Dialect. A further series of audio clips demonstrates the lexis, phonology and grammar of speakers in the UK’s Asian and Caribbean communities. There is also the opportunity for students to contribute their own recordings to be uploaded into the Your Voices section.

Text Content

As the site is also available to a general audience, we have tried to ensure the content is accessible to a wide range of users. The transcripts provided with the audio files are presented in normal script, as it was felt that linguistic transcriptions would have been confusing to the non-specialist. There are, however, two transcripts (for the recordings in Welwick and Withernsea) that have been modified to follow A-Level conventions and three transcripts in Scots (for the recordings in Lerwick, Stonehaven and Kilmarnock). These transcripts appear below the ‘normal’ transcripts. The commentaries and interpretative texts that accompany the recordings and audio clips feature a number of linguistic terms, all of which are explained at the point of use. Definitions of all the terms used are also provided in the Glossary.

How do we represent sound in writing?

Where texts focus on matters of pronunciation, a number of conventions have been combined. In some cases rhymes have been used to illustrate certain pronunciation patterns. A speaker in the north of England, for instance, is described as rhyming baths with maths in contrast to speakers in the south, who use a different vowel for each word. Elsewhere eye-dialect has been used to illustrate the same difference in pronunciation – speakers in the north say ‘fast’, speakers in the South West say ‘faast’ and speakers in the South East say ‘fahst’. It was felt that the use of such descriptions would assist a non-specialist audience and students in the early stages of English Language study. Clearly such descriptions are inadequate in a proper treatment of the subject of pronunciation and so at several points in the site – particularly in the more challenging case studies section – academic conventions have been adopted. The detailed description featured in the Regional Voices and Changing Voices section introduces the concept of the BATH set to describe and explain this well-known pronunciation difference. IPA symbols have also been included where appropriate. Thus in the Geordie Vowels section you will find a description of an audio clip featuring a speaker saying path with [a], while in the RP Vowels section there is an audio clip of a speaker saying example and France with [ɑ:].

Contributions and Participation

We hope that teachers will encourage students to contribute their own recordings for inclusion on the site. The Your Voices section contains a standard reading passage, a number of suggestions for recording a free-flowing conversation and a call for collecting contemporary regional terms used in playground games. This part of the site will continue to grow and provide even more comprehensive coverage of regional and social varieties of English. There are guidelines for organising recordings and submitting contributions. To ensure the recordings are comparable across the UK, we would request that students follow the guidelines and, most importantly, return a signed consent form with their submission. The BL retains the right to select recordings according to their own standards in terms of audio quality and content.


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Useful Web Resources