Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

19 posts categorized "Sociolinguistics"

01 March 2013

The British Library VoiceBank: An Introduction

Jonnie Robinson and Holly Gilbert write about the British Library's VoiceBank - a collection of 15,000 recordings made by the public during the Evolving English exhibition. It includes voices from around the world with wonderful examples of everyday speech, accent and dialect. Read more below...

The Herculean task of cataloguing the British Library VoiceBank is now underway. The VoiceBank is a collection of sound recordings made by visitors to the Evolving English exhibition which took place at the British Library between November 2010 and April 2011. The exhibition looked at the history and diversity of the English language in all its forms so it was a good place to collect some new information about contemporary variation in spoken English. For this purpose, tucked just inside the entrance were three specially constructed booths containing a telephone and a set of instructions. On lifting the phone receiver, contributors heard prompts that asked them to provide anonymised information about themselves including gender, year of birth, whether they spoke any languages at home other than English and where they thought their accent was from. They were then give the option of talking about a word or phrase that they found interesting or amusing or of reading the popular children’s story ‘Mr Tickle’, or both. Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Sociolinguistics and Education at the British Library and curator of the Evolving English exhibition, describes the reasons for using the Mr Tickle text in a previous blog post and on Radio 4’s Today programme. Around 15,000 people contributed to this incredible collection and we are now in the process of uncovering the exciting diversity and rich research potential of the recordings. You may even have made a recording yourself.

After listening to a mere 1,920 of the VoiceBank recordings, the variety in terms of age and geography is already astounding. The oldest participants were born in 1928 and include a German refugee who explains how her family used the word ‘emigranto’ to describe the mixture of languages used at first by immigrants which combined German syntax with English words such as in the term ‘geboiltes egg’ as well as a man from Tyneside who uses the word ‘dunch’ to mean ‘collision’. The youngest contributor is a boy from Chicago born in 2003 who simply says ‘bagel’. The contributors have accents that come from across the world including of course a huge number of locations in the UK and Ireland, as well as many other European countries from Portugal and the Channel Islands to Serbia and Estonia. There are voices from African countries including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria and contributions from Russia, Australia and New Zealand as well as many parts of Asia and the Middle East including India, Japan, Israel and Iran. South America is represented by voices from Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela and there are contributions from several US states, Canada and the Caribbean. So far no voice from Antarctica but you never know, according to Wikipedia the first child was born in the South Pole in 1913.

We’ll be writing more about some of the fascinating words and phrases discussed by the participants in the coming weeks. The first batch of 1,731 VoiceBank recordings has now been uploaded to the Sound and Moving Image catalogue and is available in the British Library Reading Rooms. Right now I’m researching the word ‘shuntler’, used by one contributor’s mum in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in the north of England but thought to be a made-up word by his dad. A Sheffield dialect dictionary published in 1891 may contain just the information I need…

04 January 2013

upstairs fains I downstairs bagsy

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator in Sociolinguistics, writes about the difficulty in achieving authentic dialect in television dramas. He explores the regional accents portrayed in the very popular costume drama Downton Abbey and highlights the British Library's Opie collections as a resource for research into accent and dialect. Read the full blog post at the British Library Sound and Vision Blog.

03 January 2013

From Myths and Realities to Equality and Egalitarianism (and more besides…)

Robert Davies highlights some of the social science events scheduled for the early part of 2013, including public lectures by Professors Danielle Allen and Noam Chomsky as well the return of the 'Myths and Realities' series.

The Social Sciences department at the British Library hold a wide programme of events linked to the subject areas we cover.  Each year we hold in the region of 30-40 events: from one day workshops, seminars and conferences aimed at academics, early-career researchers, PhD students and practitioners (for example in the business, management and third sectors), to public talks and debates.

In the first four months of this year we already have five events planned. Our season of the ‘Myths and Realities' series of public debates, which aims to explore significant public and social issues and to challenge some of the common myths and assumptions we make, starts again on the 11th February 2013 with 'Are ‘friends’ the new ‘family’?', followed by 'Addictive Personality: Myth or reality?' on the 18th March and 'Work to live or live to work' on the 29th April. These events can be booked via our 'What's On' pages.

Image  Cc-by Gwennypics

Each year we hold the Annual Equality Lecture in partnership with the British Sociological Association. This year the speaker will be UPS Foundation Professor Danielle Allen, from the Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton. Professor Allen is a political theorist who has published broadly on democratic theory, political sociology, and the history of political thought. Her lecture will discuss whether the success of egalitarian politics depends on an underlying art of association; explore the egalitarian benefits of a connected society and how to cultivate the necessary habits and skills of association. The event will be chaired by Professor Judith Burnett, Chair of the British Sociological Association and Dean of the School of Law, Social Sciences and Communications at the University of Wolverhampton.

This year the library will also be hosting a very special event linked to the forthcoming ‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’ exhibition. The philosopher, cognitive scientist and political activist, Noam Chomsky, will discuss the roles of the state and the mass media 25 years on from the publication of ‘Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the mass media’.


Noam Chomsky

This is a foretaste of what’s to come this year.  If you wish to keep up-to-date with our forthcoming events you can visit the social science events page here which gives further details of each event and provides links through to the appropriate booking pages. We also aim to upload recordings of most of our events to the Social Sciences Podcast page.

The Annual Equality Lecture is also filmed and uploaded to the British Sociological Association’s Youtube pages.

Another good way to keep informed about forthcoming events is via our various twitter feeds (listed under ‘About this blog’). Finally, and by no means least, it is also worth visiting the British Library Eccles Centre for American Studies webpages to keep informed of other events and conferences being held across the year.

This post was written by Robert Davies, Engagement Support Officer for Social Sciences. For news of our events and activities, please follow Robert on Twitter @BLRobertDavies.The Myths and Realities Series is held in partnership with the Academy of Social Sciences and is supported by the ESRC.

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