THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

37 posts categorized "Save our Sounds"

17 July 2017

Recording of the Week: a princess cannot eat stew

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This week's selection comes from Niamh Dillon, National Life Stories Project Interviewer.

Prue Leith is well known to television viewers of the Great British Menu. She started her career as a chef and restaurateur in London. In this extract from a longer recording with Niamh Dillon for Food: From Source to Salespoint, recorded in 2008, she recalls a surprise visit from Princess Margaret. Her request for pheasant stew caused considerable consternation in the kitchen resulting in a fire, a singed jacket and a spilt pot of coffee. If only VIP's knew what happens behind the scenes!

Prue Leith and Princess Margaret C821/202

Prue press pics Paul Tozer 001Prue Leith (courtesy Paul Tozier)

The full interview with Prue Leith can be found in Food, an online collection of oral history recordings that chart the extraordinary changes which transformed the production, manufacture and consumption of food in 20th-century Britain.

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

 

12 April 2017

By preserving our sound heritage now, in the future we can recreate the past

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Sound recordings freeze moments in time: music or theatrical performances, the words spoken by the famous or in everyday speech, or the sounds of our environment. When played back, they allow us to understand, to experience, to be immersed in - to relive - those moments.

Yet preserving sound recordings and making them accessible is a huge challenge, not least because sound recordings can rapidly decay and as technology marches forward, formats quickly become unplayable.

BLCK-SOUND12-small
Many thousands of archived magnetic tapes urgently need digitising

The British Library’s Save Our Sounds programme received a tremendous boost when in 2015 a £9.5 million grant was earmarked by the National Lottery. After months of preparation and assessment, prioritising the most significant at-risk sounds collections around the UK and building a network of 10 collaborating institutions, our ambitious project called Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is launched today.

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage builds on the generous support of other donors and funders, meaning that the total project funding of £18.8 million is now in place. The funding enables the formation of the first ever UK-wide network of ten sound preservation centres. This network will now come together with the British Library to save almost half a million rare and unique recordings.

The funding allows the British Library to lead this major preservation and access project, sharing skills and supporting the ten centres across the UK in order to preserve their own unique and rare regional sounds and make them more accessible to the public.

The Library and its ten partners will invest in a schedule of public engagement activities, including well-being workshops, learning events for families, and tours, events and exhibitions. A vital element of the project will be a new website for listeners to explore a wide selection of recordings. This website is scheduled to go live in 2019.

BLCK-SOUND17-small
Cleaning a shellac disc before digitisation in the British Library’s sound studios

Dr Sue Davies, Project Manager at the British Library commented:

“This project has been a long time in development and, over the last 18 months, we have laid good foundations for the next five years. I am excited to be part of this HLF funded project which will make a huge difference to the care of and use of audio archives across the UK. I am particularly looking forward to working with the ten institutional partners, sharing our skills and making it easier for a wide range of people to engage with recorded sound.”

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Foyle Foundation, Headley Trust, the British Library Trust and the American Trust for the British Library and other kind donors.

The ten centres that will soon begin work on preserving their regional sounds are: National Museums Northern Ireland, Archives + with Manchester City Council, Norfolk Record Office, National Library of Scotland, University of Leicester, The Keep in Brighton with the University of Sussex, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, National Library of Wales, London Metropolitan Archives, and Bristol Culture.

Richard Ranft, Head of Sound and Vision

More information: 
Save our Sounds
Unlocking our Sound Heritage press release 12/04/17
£9.5m boost from Heritage Lottery Fund for our Save our Sounds campaign
Save our Sounds: 15 years to save the UK’s sound collections

11 November 2016

'Honk, Conk and Squacket'... anyone?

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Honk Conk and Squacket. Fabulous and Forgotten Sound-words from a Vanished Age of Listening is a compilation of sound-related words by researcher and sound recordist I. M. Rawes.

Honk Conk and Squacket

I. M. Rawes, aka Ian Rawes, is a former British Library Sound Archive colleague. He worked at the Library for years while building The London Sound Survey on the side. This is a unique online sound map documenting the sounds of everyday life in London. It includes urban field recordings made by the author, archival materials, photographs, illustrations and a related blog.

Honk Conk and Squacket  explores the sounds of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and their surrounding socio-cultural context through what is often - notably in regard to the Victorian, pre-recording, era - the only evidence remaining: written documentation.

For this the author has investigated a myriad of sources including patents, dictionaries, glossaries and out-of-copyright period illustrations from the British Library collections.

The book works as a virtual audio nostalgia trip, laced with charm, humour and insight. On a more melancholy note, it touches on the ephemeral nature of everyday sounds and their eventual disappearance. I would recommend it as playful shared reading for the inevitable procrastination of Christmas and a must-reference volume for accurate historical sound writing.

Some sample entries:

Honk: was naval slang meaning to drink in an impressive way, echoic of the noise that eventually results. Early 20C.

Conk: is a large conch-shell of the genus Strombus, imported and then fitted with a mouth-piece. In former times it was used by fishermen as a fog-horn, producing as it did a loud and distinctive note on being blown. Late 19C. Cornwall.

Squacket: to quack as a duck; to make any disagreeable sound with the mouth. Late 19C. Surrey, Sussex and Somerset.

Laist

 Laist: to listen. Late 19C. Suffolk

Talking trumpet

Talking-trumpet. Late 19C.

If you are interested in sound and would like to know more about the Library’s sound preservation programme to digitise the nation's rare and unique sound recordings check out our Save Our Sounds programme and #SaveOurSounds.

Find more about the British Library's Drama and Literature Recordings and keep up with our activities on @BL_DramaSound.

31 October 2016

Why do people sound funny in old recordings?

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One of the pleasures of listening to old sound recordings is the ability they give us to peek through the glass at another time. Re-experiencing another moment in time, in real time, is immersive and gives us an intimate sense of what life on the other side of the glass was like. Can we take this at face value though? Does our modern perspective affect what we perceive on the other side? I had the opportunity to test this recently, in a wonderfully maintained 1947 Voice-o-graph disc recording booth, located in the Songbyrd Café in Washington DC.

 

The voice-o-graph recording booth


Before magnetic tape recording technology came of age in the mid-1940s, very few people had the means to make a sound recording of their own, and nothing more than a gramophone to play one on. Disc recording booths appeared in the 1930s, and were commonly found wherever people might have free time & spare money, such as fairgrounds, piers and railway stations. During World War II they were often used to send audio letters to and from armed forces personnel, providing an innovative morale boost to separated families and friends.

The British Library has several such discs, some of which appeared in the recent BBC Radio 4 programme Keepsake For My Lover. Listening to them, there’s often a stiffness or formality which we frequently attribute to the times they were made in. Is that a fair reflection though? While I was fascinated by the technology, I was just as keen to understand the experience of the person making the recording, to peek through from the other side of the glass.

I decided to make a recording for my daughter, who hates being praised, and also has no particular interest in discs or recording (or this blog post, probably). By the time she’s old enough to be curious about the disc, I reckoned, she might also be willing to hear a kind word from her dad, especially if he’s not in the same room at the time. I turned up at the booth with a couple of friends who were as curious as I was about the process, but I was reluctant to let them in the booth with me, and a bit nervous about telling them so. One suggested filming me from outside the booth, which didn’t altogether calm me down, plus I hadn’t actually prepared anything, other than a lullaby I used to sing to her when she was a baby (and, incidentally, was itself learned from an old British Library sound recording, here, from 30 seconds in).  

  How to make a recording

The booth itself was very warm, the machine noisy as it readies itself to record you, and a giant black cloud of my own expectation hung over me. I had three minutes to fill, with no pause button, and no second chance if I mucked it up. I sang & then mumbled, with no clear idea if I was too loud or too quiet, too near or too far away from the microphone, desperately hoping that no-one could hear me while I poured my heart out. At the end I was literally shaking.

I could have prepared better I suppose, but didn’t want simply to read something out, and the rhythm of the preceding morning hadn’t allowed a moment of quiet contemplation before piling into the booth. All of which, I suspect, would be typical of anyone making this kind of recording back in the day. What I ended up with then, is a recording sounding just like it was made in the 1940s: reticent, a bit shy, sincere. As the radio programme and my experience made clear, it’s not that the people being recorded have changed, so much as the context and technology of sound recording. Life on the other side of the glass isn’t so different after all, it’s just the glass that makes it look that way.

24 October 2016

Treasures of the Black Country

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English writes:

We were delighted recently to welcome acclaimed novelist, scriptwriter and actor, Meera Syal, to the Library to explore the accents and dialects of the Black Country for a forthcoming episode of Treasures of the British Library (Sky Arts, 21.00 Tuesdays). Born in Wolverhampton, Meera grew up in Essington, a small mining village in Staffordshire and went to school in nearby Walsall, my mom’s home town (hence she’s my mom, not my mum, mam or ma). So it was a particular pleasure to introduce Meera to the Library’s unique sound recordings that capture the distinctive voices of the area.

Meera Syal

Like me, Meera has moved away from the West Midlands, but we’ve all probably experienced the way in which language or a familiar accent immediately re-connects us with a favourite place or childhood home. The Library holds several collections that capture regional speech across the UK and across time as demonstrated by a remarkable recording of a World War One soldier born in Wolverhampton and recorded in a German Prisoner of War camp in 1916, an interview with a farm worker recorded as part of the acclaimed Survey of English Dialects in Lapley in 1955 and a conversation with Black Country poets and dialect enthusiasts recorded in Dudley in 2005.

Perhaps best known for her comedy, Meera rose to fame as co‐writer and star of Goodness Gracious Me, a series credited with popularising the British Asian word chuddies [= ‘underpants’] as confirmed by the dictionary entry below:


CHUDDIES

Dalzell & T. Victor (eds.) 2015. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English 2nd edition. London: Routledge.

so she was, I hope, reassured to discover the Library’s sound archives document the emergence of new voices and fresh influences on British English as demonstrated by this explanation that locals have adopted a Punjabi word, thandā [= ‘cold’], albeit wonderfully anglicised to a Black Country pronunciation, and by a conversation recorded by BBC Asian Network in Birmingham in 2005. Alongside this story of evolution and change, the Library has numerous recordings that capture the endurance of established dialects as confirmed by a recording of Mr Tickle (© Roger Hargreaves) submitted by a visitor to the Library's Evolving English exhibition in 2010, in which you can clearly hear a real sense of pride in the local accent.

Evolving English VoiceBank [C1442X1477] Mr Tickle in a Dudley accent

06 October 2016

The future of radio: no. 4 - Nicky Birch

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The British Library is working with the UK radio industry to develop a national radio archive and has invited experts from across the radio and music industry to consider what the future of radio might look like.

Nicky Birch
Nicky Birch

Nicky has been working in the radio and audio industry for 20 years, as a senior exec at UK indie Somethin’ Else, a director at Sound Women. In 2015 she founded radio and technology agency Rosina Sound, which has been leading a project for the British Library to explore the future of radio to help inform the launch of the National Radio Archive in 2017.

The future of UK podcasts

Much has been written about the rise and dominance of podcasts in the US. Meanwhile many producers and listeners in the UK believe our output is not up to the same standard – that American shows are better funded, better made and better distributed (although those who have discovered home-grown successes like Kermode and Mayo, the Football Ramble or My Dad Wrote a Porno might disagree).

There are several reasons why the UK podcasting industry hasn’t grown as fast as in places like America or India.

The main issue is the dominance of the BBC, which offers a high standard of speech content on its radio stations and simply converts this output to podcast format, thereby dominating the podcast charts with licence-payer-funded content.

There is also the fact that UK speech producers have traditionally not worked with advertisers so closely – they don’t have the same commercial background as US producers. In the US producers are more adept at working with brands creatively to sell a product and don’t feel uncomfortable doing so.

Finally, the strength of the BBC and commercial radio in the UK combined has meant many listeners haven’t needed or wanted to look elsewhere for their audio content.

But times are changing. During our research with the British Library we have spoken to many producers and business leaders from across the radio and audio sector, including content discovery platforms. The word is that in the UK, our podcast revolution is coming. We put this down to four reasons:

  • Commercialisation

In the US, podcasting is in a start-up frenzy – people are rushing to invest because the advertising spend is increasing quickly. There was a 48% increase in 2015, and Edison Research is estimating $150million will be spent in 2016. This isn’t a huge amount in advertising terms, but it’s the rapid growth that has excited people there and made producers and advertisers here look up.

The problem for UK podcasters has been the inability to sell their own advertising space or market their programmes successfully, being reliant on iTunes as their shop window where few shows are visible at any one time.

Companies like Acast are now offering a service that includes hosting and ad sales, and recently Audioboo pivoted its business to rebrand as Audioboom, a podcast advertising sales company, and the big US network Panopoly has just announced it is opening a UK arm.  Most podcasters using such services are still not making their fortune or indeed financing the time spent producing the content, but these are still early days. Ruth Fitzsimons from Audioboom believes podcasters need to invest now to grow their audiences in order to reap the rewards later, and she expects things to change significantly in around two years time when more advertisers realise the value of podcasting.

One of the big changes in the commercialisation of podcasts has been the introduction of dynamic advertising, where a chosen advert can be placed within the audio for a period of time and then replaced with an alternative advert at a later date. This means a large archive can have great value. Unlike linear radio, more like Netflix, podcast consumers tend to explore back catalogues so old shows can continue to make money for as long as new shows continue to be released within the same series.

  • Democratisation

The fantastic thing about podcasts is that anyone can make them, and a lot of people do. This has parallels with video where we’ve seen the rise of the YouTubers who have no fear about embracing brands and making money.

The young audiences who watch YouTube are prime for conversion into audiences for podcasts. They are used to searching for their content and used to their stars selling to them – it is totally normal. In the world of audio we’ve yet to see any mainstream celebrities grow out of podcasting, but the medium is waiting for a young presenter who isn’t constrained by old-fashioned broadcasting to tear the rulebook apart.

  • Mass niche

Podcasts are a success because they fulfil a need to hear more of what people love. Listeners make an active decision to search out and subscribe to a feed. You are unlikely to stumble upon a podcast (I’ll talk more about discoverability later) so they tend to be driven by user interests.

For example, I love cycling so I listen to the Cycling Weekly podcast, and it’s even better during the big tours, because they can put out extra editions of the show which radio can’t always fit into a limited schedule. They serve my needs when I most want it.

While a cycling show may never be mainstream, there are enough fans of most minority sports to make such podcasts viable. When you advertise on a cycling podcast, you are guaranteed to reach thousands of committed cycling fans – that’s pretty attractive to a Wiggle, Evans or Cycle Surgery – which makes the value of the sponsorship greater.

Some sales houses like DAX are starting to understand this power. It sells programmatic advertising space to agencies across all audio platforms, including podcasts, so on-demand audio can now be part of a wider campaign across radio and streaming services.

A mass niche programme that knows its audience well can provide lots of user analytics to help sell those spots. Programmatic adverts in podcasting are unlikely to cover the full costs of producing a quality podcast on their own just yet, but combined with host sponsorship readings, funding drives and branded events are turning mass niche brands into stable long term offerings with growing audiences and increasing potential.

  • Discoverability

Finding podcast content is the biggest hurdle. The user journey around most podcast players is pretty challenging. There simply isn’t enough room in the shop window for the many thousands of new programmes being created every week.

This means listeners are driven by what the platform tells them is popular and hence the top 100 chart becomes self fulfilling. This is a big design challenge, and technology is rising to overcome it.

If each programme provided a richer set of data – such as fully automated transcripts, key topics and mood – this could be linked between programmes to help users discover similar shows they might like and should lead to an explosion in discovery. This is akin to the successful Spotify Discover playlists that look at what users have listened to and create a new playlist each week accordingly.

Bigger platforms, like Amazon, Spotify and Pandora, have good experience of personalised algorithm driven content selection that they will use to their advantage as they move into the speech radio game.

Technology aside, the BBC understands one can’t rely on algorithms to serve up the hidden gems listeners never knew they wanted. The personalised service myBBC will rely on a mixture of serendipitous discovery, curated content and algorithm driven discovery.

If the BBC get this right – and listeners feel like they are taken on a journey being offered on-demand content to suit their mood that they didn’t realise they would like – they will have cracked the holy grail of on demand content. Many others will follow suit.

These are exciting times for audio producers in the UK. Brands, technology companies and the BBC are all looking to content creators to tell compelling stories to their audiences. Podcasts are just one of the many ways to deliver these messages but there is a great opportunity to play to the strengths of the audio medium being cheaper, simpler and quicker than video, film and emerging multimedia.

For creative British audio producers and presenters now is the time to experiment, to create better and bolder content ideas, to show that an idea that begins with a podcast could grow into something much bigger. Now is the time to invest in those ideas, build those audiences and the commercial support will follow.


The views and opinions in these blog posts are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the British Library.


Other blogs in this series:

The future of radio: no. 1 - Charlie Phillips

The future of radio: no. 2 - Matt Deegan

The future of radio: no. 3 - Paul Bennun

Listen to a special British Library podcast discussion of The Future of Radio

 

03 October 2016

The future of radio: no. 3 - Paul Bennun

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The British Library is working with the UK radio industry to develop a national radio archive and has invited experts from across the radio and music industry to consider what the future of radio might look like.

Paul Bennun
Paul Bennun

Paul Bennun, former CCO and non-executive director of UK content agency Somethin’ Else, considers how technology will affect the future of radio and the implications of this for the British Library's radio archive.

The future of radio from a technology perspective

Since its inception, radio has always been the testing ground for human endeavour in communications technology. If we’re asking ‘where next?’ for any medium, one could ask ‘where next?’ for technology – but radio will give you the answer first.

Maybe this is because at its root, radio is just the unalloyed human voice – the defining human technology – and it’s always been easier to apply ‘the new shiny’ to radio first.

The initial task was engineering: recording, broadcasting, amplification. With the basics down, radio tackled culture (and dogma): production, commerce and licensing – even the mechanics of celebrity. All these served radio first.

With transistors came portability. With micron-scale transistors inside PCs came digital production and delivery – more people could make more media, faster. This made a huge difference to radio producers (who previously chopped up tape) but made only minor qualitative difference to the listener. Again, radio led the way when nanoscale transistors in consumer computer processors and widespread packet-switched networks (i.e. the internet) came along.

The second-order quantitative and qualitative effects of communications technology mean hardware, content, network and author form a complex system not a stack and thus the immediacy and multiplicity of voices is innumerable. This is where we are today: any audio you want, anywhere you are. You’re the broadcaster, too, if you want to be.

So what’s next for radio? I’d point at two interesting technologies: firstly that set of technologies we call ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI) – systems that learn; secondly, audio as an unobtrusive human-system interface (don’t laugh at Apple’s AirPods)

The first order effects give us bots and basic control of devices like Siri on the iPhone. But combined these technologies can bring us autonomous cars that come when you whistle, systems that make sophisticated cultural choices about content previously restricted to humans, and systems that seamlessly merge human intention and desire with changes in a database. How far this can take us is very hard to predict.

Imagine a pop-up audio service programmed by bots that ensures everyone in an ephemeral social group (e.g. ‘trip to the pub’ or ‘Claire’s Hen Night’) can share a hilarious ‘radio show’ in their respective Ubers, where a personality-rich robot slags off their selfies and makes rude comments about Claire’s ex. You didn’t ask for it; it’s just there for a while and then it’s gone.

Your politics and cultural preferences are just another pattern to be interpreted. If we connect them to a survey of current events, a news-and-music service presented by a bot, keeping you in the bubble of what you want to hear, is easily imagined..

We can be sure that in the domain of time-based media these things will happen in ‘radio’ first. All this poses the most enormous challenges for a library of record that wishes to capture public culture in a way that is useful for future eyes and ears.

If, ten years ago, ‘radio’ was a simple concept, that is no longer the case. Linear, audio-only broadcast has given way to podcasts, audio-on-demand, extended universes of supporting content surrounding the audio ‘programme’ and cloud music services – all make a claim to being ‘radio’ to some degree.

This volume and variety of content poses unique challenges in discovery, selection and capture, if a useful, usable record of radio’s contribution is to be made for future generations. In particular it is currently impossible to capture every second of audio published. We’re limited by available resource, which is something not even measured in money, but in storage density, network speeds and computing power (although this is in all likelihood a temporary problem given the projected increase in computing horsepower).

We can most certainly put ourselves on the path to an archive that does not act under any such constraint. And if we take a limited sample of radio content, we can still create an archive that may have many of the benefits of a complete set (if we choose carefully, and we augment our sample with data about the audio we did not capture).

Let us start with the assumption of the impossibility of creating a complete archive of radio content: we therefore have to choose what to sample. We have to ask: ‘what, in the future, will we find interesting or important?’

Given we are not restricted to the capture of audio, and indeed want to capture audio in its full context, the question of what our sample should contain becomes interesting and challenging. The descriptive words used by its authors, the individuals featured on it and its categorisation by third-party publishers are just some of the useful data which can help us analyse what radio in the late 2010s can tell us about ourselves. In the future it will help tell us how we got to where we’re going.

In fact, building on the theme of AI raised earlier, it may be the question of our choice of sample is not something best left entirely to humans. ‘What did we think was important in 2016?’ is an interesting question, and building a sample based on a human’s understanding of this question is important – even if it tells us more about the selectors than the creators – but AI could take us further.

Indicators of ‘importance’ and ‘novelty’ may be less useful than indicators of evolution — we can turn to good old physics to say, with certainty, something is changing. Evolution is propelled ultimately by gradients between two actors in an environment. Patterns, and the change in patterns, in properties of our cultural output are most likely to reveal information of importance to someone accessing the archive in the future. Complex patterns are best unearthed by computers.

Neural networks, ‘deep learning’ and machine learning are all excellent at pattern recognition. Using this set of technologies to assist the decision making process may be crucial.

While not without its own potential issues, it may be automation of a daily (or hourly) census of available material will lead to the sample of captured information containing greatest utility to a future researcher. The surveys of the information space, can, themselves, be of enormous value in the future even if only a small sample of the content in that space is captured.


The views and opinions in these blog posts are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the British Library.


Other blogs in this series:

The future of radio: no. 1 - Charlie Phillips

The future of radio: no. 2 - Matt Deegan

The future of radio: no. 4 - Nicky Birch

Listen to a special British Library podcast discussion of The Future of Radio

 

30 September 2016

Dialects not only connect, they sometimes divide

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Towards the end of the 1980s a close northern friend once confided in me his disappointment at being consistently overlooked for international honours in cricket and rugby due to perceived selectorial bias towards players based in the south of England. The fact he hadn’t played either sport for a recognised club since leaving school seemed irrelevant: there was a principle at stake. There are constant debates in sport about the relative likelihood of selection for national squads depending on which school or club a player represents, but until this week I hadn’t considered the possibility that quizzes might be anything other than geographically impartial.

As a fan of Only Connect I was intrigued this week to see a question which required contestants to predict the final element of a sequence given the following stimulus:

Only Connect Clue
The sequence required contestants to solve a mathematical and linguistic puzzle by recognising that a descending mathematical sequence of 2 to the power of the given number produced an answer supposedly homophonous with a synonym of the corresponding word or phrase:

23 = consumed (i.e. ‘eight = ate’)

22 = in favour of (i.e. ‘four = for’)

21 = also (i.e. ‘two = too’)

20 = was victorious in a quiz (i.e. ‘one = won’)

Only Connect Solution

The first problem here is that, for many speakers, eight and ate are not homophones. For most speakers in the UK eight rhymes with ‘gate’, but for many ate rhymes with ‘get’. Both words were included in the questionnaire of the Survey of English Dialects – a nationwide study of regional speech in England carried out in the 1950s and 1960s. For the vast majority of informants the simple past tense of the verb ‘to eat’ rhymed with ‘get’ and there are very few unambiguous examples of rhymes with ‘gate’. The only examples of an apparent past form rhyming with ‘gate’ were in places like Yorkshire, Lancashire, Devon and Cornwall where, historically, the local dialect makes no distinction between present and past tense – i.e. eat is unmarked for tense but is pronounced to rhyme with ‘gate’ regardless. This reflects a middle English vowel sound that survives in a small set of similar words – meat still occasionally sounds like an RP pronunciation of ‘mate’ in these dialects. Interestingly, despite only fleeting glimpses in this survey of ate rhyming with ‘gate’, we increasingly hear this pronunciation nowadays, presumably as a result of a pronunciation falling in line with spelling – a trend confirmed by data published in the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (Wells, 2008:54). A similar process is happening with says so that, as with your pronunciation of ate, whether you pronounce says to rhyme with ‘fez’ or with ‘phase’ may reveal a good deal about your age.

Four and for and two and too indisputably rhyme in most varieties of British English (if we exclude for convenience the Scots preference for twa), but one and won present a similar problem. If you speak RP – the regionally neutral middle-class accent of England – you probably rhyme one with won and chances are if you’re from the south of England you will, too. If, like my sister-in-law, you come from Leeds you might also do so, but with a completely different vowel to the one used by RP speakers and southerners. For many speakers in the UK, however, one rhymes with ‘gone’ while won rhymes with ‘gun’. Data from the Survey of English Dialects suggests that one was almost universally rhymed with ‘gone’ in the north and Midlands, apart from a small pocket of West Yorkshire (cf. my sister-in-law’s pronunciation in Leeds) and the far north, where the dialect form yan competed with one.  In contrast, speakers in the south of England varied between a rhyme with ‘gone’ and a rhyme with ‘gun’ with the latter more common. According to a survey conducted for the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary roughly 70% of British English speakers favour a rhyme with ‘gone’ meaning that one and won are homophonous for a minority of speakers (Wells, 2008:563). Thankfully the captain of the team presented with this clue was a young RP speaker, but I wonder if contestants from the north (or older speakers) subconsciously struggled to make the connection between the mathematical and linguistic clues, as for them the link may not be immediately apparent for either the first or fourth item in the sequence (or both).

So my friend may have been deluded all those years ago about his chances of ever playing for England, but he might genuinely have a case to argue about his relative chances of winning TV quiz shows.  The British Library holds the entire set of recordings made for the Survey of English Dialects thus allowing researchers to explore and enjoy these fine distinctions between dialects.

Only Connect Series 12 Episode 12, Genealogists v Surrealists. 2016. BBC2. 26 September, 20.30.