Sound and vision blog

187 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

16 March 2018

Linguistics at the Library - Episode 4

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PhD placement students, Andrew Booth & Rowan Campbell, write:

What happens when lots of languages and dialects come into contact with each other? This week, Andrew and Rowan discuss contact effects in super-diverse cities like London, and what happens to English as more and more people speak it around the world. We also answer a question from Twitter about the noises we make in conversation to show that we’re listening.

Tweet us: @VoicesofEnglish

This week’s ‘What’s the feature?’ used a clip from:

Millennium Memory Bank Recording in Birmingham. BBC, UK, rec. 1999 [digital audio file]. British Library, C900/18580. Available:

Links & studies mentioned:

Multicultural London English databank:

Donahue, R. T. (1998). Japanese culture and communication: Critical cultural analysis. University Press of America.

Cheshire, Jenny, Kerswill, Paul, Fox, Susan et al. (1 more author) (2011) Contact, the feature pool and the speech community : The emergence of Multicultural London English. Journal of Sociolinguistics. 151–196. ISSN 1360-6441

Oxford Dictionaries – 10 ways speakers of World English are changing the language

Linguistics at the Library Episode 4

13 March 2018

Glottal stops and fluency in non-native English speakers

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PhD placement student, Rowan Campbell, writes:

If you’ve been listening to our podcast (Shameless Plug #378902), you just might have noticed that I, the Scottish one, love glottal stops. This is the sound that’s often written as an apostrophe where you would usually see a /t/ – for example, wa’er instead of water. But it actually has its own super-cool symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet, and looks a bit like a question mark: ʔ

That’s the first of many fun things I could write about the glottal stop, but rather than descending into a clickbait listicle (You Won’t BELIEVE These Seven Facts About Glottals!), I’m going to focus on something interesting that I’ve noticed in the Evolving English VoiceBank: non-native English speakers using glottal stops. Have a listen to these three clips – the first recording is of a young RP speaker, the second is a speaker from Cardiff, and the third is a woman whose native language is Czech.

C1442 uncatalogued female speaker

C1442X5884 Cardiff female (b.1982)

C1442X5843 Czech female (b.1986)

As you can hear, all three speakers use glottal stops, but the main difference is that the RP speaker only uses them before consonants and pauses, where they often go unnoticed:

… opened the biscuiʔ tin, took out a biscuiʔ, brought iʔ back upstairs …

Compare this with the Cardiff and Czech speakers, who replace every word-final /t/ with a glottal stop:

… opened the biscuiʔ tin, took ouʔ a biscuiʔ, broughʔ iʔ back upstairs …

This is something that is now quite common among young British speakers, but we might not expect to hear it from a non-native speaker - the glottal stop is a stigmatised and often-criticised variant of /t/when it occurs between vowels, and as such is not generally taught to language learners.  Presumably, this Czech speaker has noticed the people around her using the glottal stop and has incorporated it into her own linguistic repertoire. But why has she picked up on this feature in particular?

Some recent research on sociolinguistic variation amongst Polish-born teens in Edinburgh suggests that t-glottaling may be a relatively easy native-like feature to acquire. In Sociolinguistics in Scotland (2014), Miriam Meyerhoff and Erik Schleef examine two features that can vary phonologically and sociolinguistically:

  • T-glottaling, or using the glottal stop /ʔ/ instead of /t/
  • Apical (ing), commonly referred to as ‘g-dropping’ – for example, pronouncing the last syllable of ‘walking’ as ‘kin’ rather than ‘king’. These are represented phonetically as /kɪn/ and /kɪŋ/ respectively, as the ‘ng’ sound has its own (also super-cool) phonetic symbol: ŋ

Without wanting to overload you with new terminology, you might notice that these features also vary in linguistic complexity. T-glottaling is only phonological, in that it just requires knowledge of the phonological variants /t/ and /ʔ/. Both of these sounds can easily be substituted for the other at the end of any word. However, to ‘g-drop’ in a native-like manner requires additional knowledge, as not all ‘ings’ are created equal – compare the ‘ing’ in ‘king’ versus ‘walking’.  We can pronounce the last syllable of ‘walking’ as either /kɪn/ or /kɪŋ/, but we can’t pronounce /kɪŋ/ as /kɪn/ without changing the meaning of the word. Learning where we can and cannot ‘drop the g’ requires knowledge of both the phonological variants and the grammatical difference between these two types of ‘ing’.

As such, it’s harder to learn the relevant linguistic constraints for ‘g-dropping’ than t-glottaling, making the glottal stop a great candidate for non-native speakers to pick up – and that could be partly why the Czech speaker’s English sounds very fluent and native-like!

08 March 2018

Laurie Anderson at the ICA - #IWD2018

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Happy International Women’s Day!

Here is a recording of composer-musician, performance artist and filmmaker Laurie Anderson in conversation with art critic Sarah Kent, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 26 November 1990.

Laurie Anderson _Image CC BY Maria Zaikina on flickrLaurie Anderson. Image CC BY Maria Zaikina on Flickr.

Anderson talks about the use of voices (both male and female) in her performances, to highlight positions of power and authority, and to make remarks on gender politics.

She also talks about the relationship between live performance and recordings, her sources of inspiration, and the making of her album Strange Angels which she explains had its origins in a casual conversation at an airport - with a stranger who turned out to be film director Wim Wenders.

The interview goes on for about half an hour followed by an audience Q&A.

For more recordings of performance, drama, and literature at the British Library check our Sound and Moving Image catalogue  and follow us on @BL_DramaSound

05 March 2018

Recording of the week: being uncouth at drama school

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This week's selection comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

Mother and son, Radhika and Omar, talk about Omar’s experience of attending a drama course at LAMDA - The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Omar describes the assumptions that he feels people at LAMDA have made about him as a mixed-race East Londoner and they discuss the experiences of some of his fellow students as well as one of the teachers on his course. They emphasise the importance of learning from people who are different to us and not making judgments based on stereotypes. They also discuss the difference in attitudes towards career choices between Omar, who is a second generation immigrant, and Radhika, who moved to England from Sri Lanka when she was 8 years old.

The Listening Project_Radhika and Omar

Radhika and Omar

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between Radhika and Omar can be found here.

Follow @CollectingSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news. 

01 March 2018

Farewell to Sir Dan - founder of the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra

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By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

From Jolyon(Courtesy Marlborough Rare Books)

I was recently surprised to discover an unusual recording here at the British Library Sound Archive.  It is an exciting find as it documents the Farewell Concert relayed from the Pavilion, Bournemouth on 30th September 1934 by one of the great figures of British music making before the War, Dan Godfrey.

English conductor Dan Godfrey was born in London in 1868.  His father, also Dan, (1831-1903) was bandmaster of the Grenadier Guards.  Dan, the son, formed the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra in 1893 when he was twenty-five.  Their first concert was on the 22nd May 1893 at the Winter Gardens, a huge glass structure with a seating capacity of 4,000 built in 1875.  By 1895 the orchestra became the first salaried municipal orchestra in the country and, along with the Hallé Orchestra, one of the few permanent symphony orchestras in England.  By the turn of the century Godfrey was gaining a reputation as an exponent of British music along with Henry Wood, also giving British premieres of major works by Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saens and Richard Strauss.  By 1903 Godfrey conducted his 500th concert and in 1910 Fritz Kreisler gave the provincial premier of Elgar’s Violin Concerto at Bournemouth after the world premiere in London.

Godfrey and the orchestra made records for HMV and Edison Bell in 1913 and from 1923 to 1933 he recorded for Columbia – some of those sessions with the London Symphony Orchestra – including the London Symphony of Vaughan Williams.

WalfordDavies_HughAllen_CyrilRoothamWalford Davies, Hugh Allen and Cyril Rootham

Knighted in 1922 ‘for valuable services to British music’, by 1934 Sir Dan was sixty-five and had to retire, hence the farewell concert where he passed the baton to Richard Austin (1903-1989).  Most of the concert was captured on these early discs from the broadcast including the speech at the end from Sir Hugh Allen (1869-1946) a musician whose life was spent between Oxford and the Royal College of Music in London.  An emotional Sir Dan responds to Sir Hugh, particularly when he refers to the musicians of the orchestra.  After forty one years conducting over two thousand concerts with this orchestra he lived on for only another five years, but his legacy remains as his orchestra became the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra that we know today.

The musical excerpt I have chosen is of a work that Sir Dan conducted at his first concert in 1893.  It is taken from the incidental music English composer Edward German (1862-1936) wrote for a London performance of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII in 1892.  In his speech, Sir Dan relates that he received a telegram from the composer that afternoon.

German Dance from Henry VIII

Sir Hugh Allen speech

Sir Dan Godfrey speech

Driving across Greenland at minus 40

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However bad your commute to work was in snow-blanketed Britain today, it's unlikely to be as bad as the drive scientist Richard Brett-Knowles had across Greenland as part of the 1952-54 British North Greenland Expedition.

1024px-M29_Weasel_Arctic_USArmyTransMuseumWeasel vehicle similar to that driven by Brett-Knowles in 1953

(Image by Larry Pieniazek, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

As well as sleds pulled by husky dogs, the expedition used Weasel tracked vehicles to travel across the snow covered wastes, though as Brett-Knowles recalled in this interview extract, the vehicles were not without their problems…

Richard Brett Knowles - driving at minus 40 (C1379-66)

You can listen to the whole of Richard Brett-Knowles's ten-hour life story interview online. And, if you're having a snow day, why wouldn't you?

This blog is by Tom Lean, National Life Stories Project Interviewer. Tom interviewed Richard Brett-Knowles for An Oral History of British Science (reference C1379/66) in 2012. 

28 February 2018

French picture discs from the 50s: the Saturne label

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Visitors to the British Library's current exhibition Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound can see on display some of the more visually appealing sound carriers in the collection, among them a selection of historical and modern picture discs. The exhibition is in the Entrance Hall until 13 May 2018 and is free to all.

The Library's sound archive is one of the largest in the world and contains many more picture records than we could possibly find room for in the exhibition. Here are a few of the more interesting items we had to leave out, all issued on the French Saturne label in the early 1950s - an eclectic mix including opera, traditional Jewish music, and documentary spoken word.






Unfortunately, though the Saturne discs are very attractive visually, the sound is, in the words of audio engineer Tony Baldwin, 'truly awful' - something we have come to expect from picture discs of this era.

A note by Baldwin on the CD reissue of Henri Renaud's 'Complete Legendary Saturne Picture Discs' (Paris Jazz Corner PJC 222008, 2001) details just how difficult it was to create something listenable from these 'severely flawed' recordings, with one particular 15-second passage of music requiring 90 manual edits!

On a related note, this short (unenhanced) excerpt from one of the discs pictured above - 'Brumas (the Roly Polar Bear)' performed by Billy Ternent & his Orchestra - illustrates the level of surface noise present. Brumas, incidentally, was a polar bear cub born in Regent's Park Zoo, London, 27 November 1949, who had been attracting a great deal of media attention. 

Listen to Brumas (the Roly Polar Bear) - excerpt

26 February 2018

Recording of the week: Trusting the Voice

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The late Martyn Taylor set out in the early 1980s to capture the lived experience of older gay men. In this extract from the start of an interview from 1982, Martyn explains to his visually impaired interviewee George how the microphone works, what happens after the interview ends and crucially what his motivations are in doing the project.

Martyn Taylor and George (C1245-01)

It is rare to hear this sort of preparation work in the oral history recording itself – usually context is given off-microphone, or via paperwork, and then a recording agreement is signed after the interview is complete. Martyn’s unusual and charming explanation forms a great introduction to ethical good practice in oral history.

Martyn Taylor advert redactedMartyn Taylor's call for interviewees, July 1982 (C1245)

The interviewee must understand why the interview is taking place, and what will happen to it afterwards, in order for their consent to be fully informed. Ignoring this can cause serious problems further down the line when interviewees discover where their words have ended up, and how they are represented.

GeorgeGeorge interviewed by Martyn Taylor, 1982 (C1025/01)

George, born in 1907, withheld his second name. In the rest of his interview, he discusses (among many other things) his family life and upbringing, realising his sexual orientation during his teens and meeting other gay men through swimming and cycling clubs. George also mentions his trouble with the police, problems of relations between gay men of different ages and discusses the changes he has seen in the language used about gay men. George was not gay - he was a homosexual.

Again and again, George emphasises the risks gay men faced in the early twentieth century, and the importance therefore of being able to judge the character of others. As someone with a visually impairment, George explains how he is able to tell someone’s character just from their voice. Likewise for oral historians, the voice is all we have.

George’s whole interview (C1245/01) can be listened to in the Library Reading Rooms, alongside five other interviews from the same collection.

Find out more about the British Library's oral histories of sexuality in our collection guide. Read and listen to more LGBTQ stories for the collections in the Library's new LGBTQ Histories webpage.