Sound and vision blog

10 posts from January 2018

30 January 2018

Mr Tickle in Connected Speech

PhD placement student Andrew Booth writes:

At the Evolving English exhibition at the British Library (2010-11), we asked visitors to submit recordings of their voices in specially designed telephone booths. Around 15,000 speakers took part, and the outcome is the Evolving English VoiceBank and WordBank – a collection of accents and dialect words from over the UK, and all around the world. Using the recordings can help linguists or language learners and language teachers in a variety of ways.

Connected speech is an umbrella term, which is used to describe the different processes of change words experience when spoken in natural and uninterrupted speech. It is easier to read a sentence with the words spaced evenly, thanitiswhentherearenospacesinbetween. In speech we do not have the luxury of set boundaries, and when natural speech occurs, some sounds are lost or changed to enable speed and fluency. The rhythmic organisation of English can cause letters to be inserted, changed or deleted. Here are some examples –

  • ‘ten minutes’ said quickly in the middle of a sentence may become /teminits/
  • ‘in bed’ in the middle of the sentence ‘sat up in bed’ could become /imbed/
  • ‘to a’ may become /towa/ in the sentence ‘came to a school’
  • ‘raw egg’ may become /ro:r eg/ when said quickly
  • ‘must have’ isn’t usually /must hav/, but pronounced /mustuv/

Teaching connected speech to learners of English can be an immensely complicated procedure if you are determined to spell out the rules and terminology that unveil the secrets to connected speech. Within connected speech we have the terminology of progressive assimilation which covers the first two examples above and linking or intrusive /r/ or /w/ explains the second two and weak forms which can explain the final one. Any or all of the terms are enough to put an English language learner (or anybody) off learning languages forever. However, by showing the features of connected speech the fluency and understanding of English can be improved rapidly.

As a rule, when teaching English, I will stay as far away from the terms above as possible. They only deter learners and do not help when pupils are already learning in a language that isn’t their mother tongue. However, I will not skirt the subject and have found a few rules that may help my teaching. Examples of a few of these are below:

Rule 1 - When a word ends in a consonant and the next begins with a vowel, the consonant may move to the other word or straddle between the two words: fast asleep sounds like fas•tasleep or back upstairs sounds like back ͜   upstairs

Rule 2 - If the consonant at the end of one word is the same as the start of another, the end consonant is not finished and merges with the beginning of the following word- thought ͜   to himself, less ͜   strict

Rule 3 - If a word ends in a single /n/ and the next begins with a /b/, /m/ or /p/ - the /n/ disappears and becomes a /m/ (see examples above)

Rule 4 - With non-stressed words of only one syllable that are not central to the context, compare the sentences – yes, we can! to we can do it! – the word can is much stronger in the first than the second

The examples above may seem to be imperceptible to a native speaker of English, they may even seem impossible when you try and say them in isolation. However, after listening to Mr Tickle time after time, I found that we really are chained to the conventions of connected speech, even though we do not know them.

Listen to the first minute and a half of the following excerpts from Mr Tickle read by native English speakers; see if you notice any of the rules in these sentences: (The first voice is someone from the South East of England, the second is from Manchester and the third is a Spanish speaker)

C1442X1339X1655X3044 extract 1

He was having a dream.  It must have been a very funny dream because it made him laugh out loud, and that woke him up.

C1442X1339X1655X3044 extract 2

He sat up in bed, stretched his extraordinary long arms, and yawned an enormous yawn.

C1442X1339X1655X3044 extract 3

Today looks very much like a tickling day,” he thought to himself.

Note that the Manchester speaker is also using connecting speech for /g/ in words ending ng. This could be another blog post in itself!

If we compare the same passage to a speaker whose first language generally does not use these connected speech features, you may be able to hear a difference. The Spanish speaker in the extracts above puts the same emphasis and length on each syllable:

In English we love to assimilate and compress words together or even delete letters from their original place when we speak naturally. There are many more examples of connected speech in the excerpt above that I have not included. Awareness of some of these features can help a learner not only to sound like a native speaker but also help them to understand these weird and interesting variations of our speech.

29 January 2018

Recording of the week: echolocating birds

This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds.

Echolocation is a handy tool used by several groups of animals to understand the world around them. The major players are bats and cetaceans, who use the echoes of specialist calls to locate prey and navigate in conditions where visibility is poor, however a few other animals also possess their own biosonar systems.

Oilbirds (Steatornis caripensis) are one of only a handful of birds with the ability to echolocate. These nocturnal birds roost in caves across the tropical forests of northwestern South America and spend a considerable amount of their time in the dark. In conditions where eyesight is irrelevant, individuals use sequences of clicks to build up a 3D image of their surroundings. The rapid fire and variable nature of these sequences is captured in the following recording made in the Colombian Andes by wildlife sound recordist Ian Todd. Calls from nearby birds can also be heard, especially in the first half of the recording.

Echolocating oilbirds recorded by Ian Todd in the Colombian Andes on 9 Feb 2009 (BL ref 110359)


An Oilbird in the Asa Wright Nature Centre caves, Trinidad (courtesy of Alastair Rae)

As Ian explained in his accompanying notes, obtaining this recording was by no means a walk in the park.

"To gain access to the mouth of the cave we had to wade across the fast-flowing upland Rio Alicante, and then clamber up a series of huge boulders. The colony of Oilbirds was localised just within the cave entrance."

Hats off to you, sir.

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

27 January 2018

'I Got Away'

On Holocaust Memorial Day, Charlie Morgan (Archive and Administrative Assistant for National Life Stories) writes about a recent addition to the Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust collection.

“You who have forgotten to kill me
You dark and silent street
Deep doorway in the gathering dusk
The soldier who did turn away –
Dark night you hid me in your arms
You houses with your shutters down
Night rain and mist
You all, you all
And you as well, you men, you men
Who have forgotten to kill me."

In November of last year I was contacted by Annabel Simms and Kate Turner, the daughters of Elizabeth Simms, one of the interviewees in the Holocaust Survivors' Centre Interviews project. Elizabeth was a keen poet and after her death in 2015 Annabel and Kate had rediscovered what she always described as her best piece of work.

The poem, titled ‘I Got Away’, was written in 1946 and describes events that took place in November and December 1944 when Elizabeth escaped not just once but twice from Nazi death marches. Annabel and Kate asked if we would like to add it to our collections alongside the 2005 interview with Elizabeth. We said yes.

Poem Budapest 1946

In March of 1944 the German army marched into Budapest where 21 year old Elizabeth was living with her family. The family were taken to a concentration camp and spent six months imprisoned, before being released in September. Their release was to be a temporary reprieve and in October the fascist Arrow Cross Party took control of the government.

Prior to 1944 Hungary had passed anti-Semitic laws, deported thousands of Jews, and been an active ally of the Third Reich, but it was after the German invasion, and especially under the six month rule of the Arrow Cross, that a concerted attempt was made to implement a ‘Final Solution’. By the end of 1944 the Holocaust, previously centred on the Hungarian countryside, was fully extended to the Jews of Budapest

‘I Got Away’ relates Elizabeth’s two escapes from Nazi death marches and is a composite of events from both. Elizabeth was captured in October 1944 and following two weeks of forced labour was put on a march towards a train station.

After witnessing a bystander shot for saying “poor things” she decided to escape. Aware that any quick movement would alert the Arrow Cross guards, she stepped out the line, walked at a normal pace in the other direction, tore off her yellow star, and hid in a cellar (“Dark night you hid me in your arms”). She boarded a tram back to Budapest where she was spotted by a Hungarian officer who for unknown reasons said nothing (“The soldier who did turn away”).

After her safe house was raided in December 1944 Elizabeth was again marched out of the city but again escaped, this time going to an address she had been given by her father. But the people at the address would only let her stay until 10.30 at night when they turned her out on the streets. This was a Jewish Quarter, it was dark, past curfew and the Arrow Cross were out looking for Jews (“Night rain and mist”).

Elizabeth knocked at ten doors that night (“You houses with your shutters down”), before someone let her in. The man behind the tenth door was a Protestant of German descent and a member of the dissolved Social Democratic Party. Over the course of the Holocaust he saved over 300 Jews.

When I spoke to Annabel she mentioned that he was motivated by the experience of having lived as a religious minority in Catholic Hungary and she compared him to Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, the French village where residents saved thousands of Jews. She said he explained simply that “it was my duty as a human being”.

Elizabeth describes her first escape (C830/151/02)

Elizabeth spent the rest of the war in hiding until Hungary was liberated by the Soviet forces in March 1945, although even then she had to protect herself from Soviet soldiers who would regularly rape local women. Her father had died in December 1944 but Elizabeth’s mother was able to send a telegram to her son (Elizabeth’s brother) in Leeds to say the two of them had survived. He managed to get them travel papers and in 1947 they arrived in the UK.

Elizabeth aged about 15Elizabeth Simms aged 15, courtesy of Annabel Simms

Elizabeth was interviewed in 2005 for the Holocaust Survivors' Centre Interviews project and the project, alongside Living Memory of the Jewish Community, makes up the online oral history resource Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust. Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust is one of the most used oral history resources at the British Library and, with over 1,000 hours of recordings, is one of the largest online collections of Holocaust testimonies in Europe.

The interviews were conducted between the late 1980s and the early 2000s and for many survivors it was the first time they had spoken openly about their experiences. For Elizabeth, the interview took place nearly six decades after she had written the poem ‘I Got Away’ and there is marked difference between the two. Her poem is immediate and visceral; the interview more reflective. Taken together the two documents provide a powerful window into her life and her struggle for survival.

Elizabeth on why she decided to be interviewed (C830/141/04)

‘I Got Away’ ends defiantly, a pointed finger at “you all, you all… who have forgotten to kill me”. Unlike so many others, Elizabeth lived and the responsibility and privilege of preserving her life story and making it publicly accessible is now with us at the British Library. We hope that many people will listen to her story and those of countless others, at the same time reflecting upon those who never go the chance to tell their own.

On Holocaust Memorial Day we remember the atrocities of the past, but remembering is an active and not a passive process. Oral histories like those of Elizabeth are just one part of this process but they enable us to directly grapple with history. Her story is a reminder that behind every number and every headline there were human beings who lived, died, resisted and persevered.

The Holocaust Survivors' Centre Interviews was a National Life Stories collaborative project with the Jewish Care Holocaust Survivors' Centre, a Jewish social centre in north London for survivors who were in Europe during the Second World War or who came to the UK as refugees. The project ran between 1993 and 1998 and gathered a total of 154 audio life story testimonies. You can listen to the full interview with Elizabeth Simms at British Library Sounds.

With thanks to Annabel Simms and Kate Turner for their help with this blog.

26 January 2018

Linguistics at the Library - Episode 1

PhD placements students Andrew Booth and Sarah Rowan write:

Episode 1
The first episode of Linguistics at the Library introduces the British Library’s Evolving English Collection, which is a sound archive capturing the diversity of English accents and dialects. Podcast hosts Andrew Booth and Rowan Campbell are working with this archive as part of a PhD placement, and every few weeks will be bringing you a fresh discussion about linguistics and how to identify different accents.

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

BBC Voices Recording in Newcastle. BBC, UK, rec. 2005 [digital audio file]. British Library, C1190/32/01. Available:…1190X0023XX-0101V0

Interesting links: 
The glottal stop in Glasgow:…ogenised-london 
The Bristol ‘l’:…n-idea-dialect.html 
An in-depth look at the Newcastle accent:…ase-studies/geordie/

Follow Rowan and Andrew on Twitter on @VoicesofEnglish

Linguistics at the Library Episode 1

Andrew Booth and Rowan Campbell

22 January 2018

Recording of the week: Benno's Emperor

This week's selection comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.

The last Classical Recording of the Week was of George Szell conducting Haydn. Here he is again fifteen years earlier in 1938 during his time as conductor of the Scottish Orchestra (1936-1939) just before he left for the United States. He conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra for soloist Benno Moiseiwitsch in Beethoven's immortal Piano Concerto No. 5, the Emperor Concerto. The music of a genius performed by one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century. Conductor and soloist are in total accord in the magisterial first movement; Szell shapes the poetic slow movement to perfection (beginning at 20'32") while both have fun in the rollicking third movement (beginning at 28'42").

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra no. 5 op. 73 E flat (Emperor)


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19 January 2018

Mary Lee Berners-Lee: the joy of programming and equal pay

This blog is by Tom Lean, National Life Stories Project Interviewer. Tom interviewed Mary Lee Berners-Lee and her husband Conway for An Oral History of British Science (reference C1379/23) in 2010-2011.

Mary Lee Berners-Lee, originally Mary Lee Woods, is probably best known as the mother of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, but she had a considerable career in science and technology in her own right. After studying mathematics at the University of Birmingham, she spent the latter part of the Second World War working at the Telecommunications Research Establish (TRE), the secret centre of Britain’s radar development effort. With the war over she returned to her studies, before leaving Britain for the Mount Stromlo observatory in Australia in 1947, where she worked classifying the spectra of stars. In 1951 she returned to Britain and chanced across an advert for a job at Ferranti in Manchester that would change her life: “I was reading Nature and saw an advertisement one day for – saying, ‘Mathematicians wanted to work on a digital computer.’”

021I-C1379X0023XX-0001A1Mary Lee and Conway Berners-Lee in 1954

Mary Lee spent three days in a reference library learning what a computer was, “the most profitable three days I think I’ve ever had because when I went for the interview for the job I could ask intelligent questions and nobody else they’d interviewed had, so it put up my salary quite a bit!” Subsequently she joined the team working on the Ferranti Mark 1, the world’s first general purpose electronic computer to be commercially available – the first machine built to be sold to customers not just an experimental electronic brain developed by scientists. At Ferranti she discovered not only her future husband, Conway Berners-Lee, but also the joy of programming, as she recounts in this extract from her interview for An Oral History of British Science.

Mary Lee Berners-Lee on the joy of programming

Mary Lee left Ferranti to raise a family, but later worked in various computing related jobs. She was not only a pioneer of computer programming, but also for women in science and technology. Mary  fought against Ferranti’s concerns that it would be improper of women programmers to work on the computer overnight with male engineers, and demanded equal pay for women programmers.

Mary Lee Berners-Lee on equal pay for women programmers

You can read more about Mary Lee and listen to more extracts at Voices of Science; parts of her life story interview are available in the Library Reading Rooms.

16 January 2018

A Franck connection - the pianist Cécile Boutet de Monvel

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Disc label

Two of my previous blogs were about unknown pianists, both of whom had recorded César Franck’s great work for solo piano, the Prelude, Chorale and Fugue.  American Marion Roberts recorded it in 1927 and the French pianist Yvonne Levy recorded it in 1932.  They were both these artists’ only solo piano recordings.

There is another little known recording of this work made on 21st April 1937 in Paris for French HMV by Cécile Boutet de Monvel.  One of nine children, she came from an artistically talented family with her father Benjamin Boutet de Monvel (1820-1880) being a chemistry and physics professor while her maternal grandfather was famous tenor Adolphe Nourrit (1802-1839) who at the age of twenty-four became leading tenor of the Paris Opéra creating all the major tenor roles in Rossini’s French operas working closely with the composer.  One of Cécile’s brothers was Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel (1850-1913) a French painter famous for his illustrations of children’s books. 

Drawing_by_Louis-Maurice_Boutet_de_MonvelEverybody's St. Francis by Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel

Louis-Maurice was also a portrait painter.

Portrait_de_Paul_Mounet_By_Louis-Maurice_Boutet_de_MontvelPortrait of Paul Mounet by Louis-Maurice Bouvet de Monvel

One of his two sons, Cécile’s nephew Bernard (1881-1949), was also a well-known painter while the other, Roger (1879-1951) was a writer.

Cécile was born in 1864 and although she studied at the Paris Conservatoire it appears that she did not have a career as a concert pianist.  She took part in the Concerts Colonne in 1897 playing the Franck Violin Sonata (described as ‘Musique Moderne’) with Monsieur Parent and the following February gave a recital at the Salle Pleyel which included Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 26, and a Prelude and Fugue in C sharp major by Bach.  Composer Paul Dukas, who reviewed the concert, found her ‘particularly interesting’ and declared that she was ‘an artist as much as a pianist.’ 

Quite why Cécile came to make her only recording on the 21st April 1937 at the age of seventy-three is uncertain.  She was a cousin of César Franck’s wife and had been the composer’s pupil so it is possible that someone thought her interpretation of one of the composer’s major works should be preserved and presented to the public as this is not a privately made recording.  She was already twenty years of age when Franck wrote the work in 1884 and he had died in 1890 so there must have been few people alive in the late 1930s who had had such a close association with him.

The performance has inaccuracies, but the wrong notes do not detract from the nobility of conception.  It has weight without being ponderous while her wide ranging contrasting dynamics and subtle use of the pedal all make for fascinating listening.  The recording is spread over five sides and as a filler for the sixth side she plays the Mazurka in A minor Op. 17 No. 4 by Chopin.

Franck Prelude Chorale & Fugue 1CL0019480

Cécile Boutet de Monvel died less than three years after making the recording on 13th February 1940 in a Paris very different from the one she had known with German forces invasion only three months away.

I have not been able to find a picture of Cécile but here is her nephew Bernard with the great pianist Alfred Cortot who made a famous recording of the Prelude, Chorale and Fugue in 1929.

Bernard_Boutet_de_Monvel _Paul_Schmidt _Alfred_Cortot _1927Bernard Bouvet de Monvel (left), Paul Schmitt (centre), Alfred Cortot (right) at the Cercle Interallié in Paris 1927

For all the latest Classical news follow @BL_Classical

15 January 2018

Recording of the week: Anglo-Romani and dialect

This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

It was great to see Peaky Blinders back for a fourth series as, among its many delights, it offers a rare glimpse in the mainstream media of Anglo-Romani. Given the presence of traveller communities across the UK it’s perhaps not surprising that Romani has influenced local dialect in many parts of the country. Speakers either side of the English-Scottish border, for instance, will be familiar with terms like gadgie [from gaujo = ‘(non-gypsy) man’], mort [= ‘girl, woman’], mooey [from mui = ‘mouth, face’], radgie [from radge = ‘mad, angry’] and scran [= ‘food’]. A small set of Romani words are used more widely, including cushty [from kushti = ‘good’], mullered [= ‘dead, killed’] and mush [= ‘man (esp. as form of address’] and a recent collaboration between the British Library and Guardian newspaper to document regional words confirmed the relationship between Anglo-Romani & dialect as contributors supplied numerous expressions including chore [= ‘to steal’ (Poole)], dinilo [= ‘fool, Idiot’ (Portsmouth)], jukkel [= ‘dog’ (Carlisle)], ladging [= ‘embarrassing’ (York)] and tuvli [= ‘cigarette’ (Newark)].


Probably the most unfortunate contribution of Anglo-Romani to English is the word chav, which in recent years has been adopted by young speakers all over the country to refer negatively to a stereotypical young ne’er-do-well characterised by cheap designer clothes, anti-social behaviour and low social status. The word derives from the much more endearing Anglo-Romani word chavvi [= ‘boy, son’] and illustrates how certain social groups have unfortunately always attracted suspicion and condemnation. A WordBank contributor from the Medway, Kent who can pukker [= ‘to speak’] Romani explains, for instance, how he will often jel down the tober to see my little chavvis in my vardo [‘go down the road to see my children in my caravan’], while another contributor submitted an expression assumed to be local to Newark, seemingly unaware of its Romani origins. The book Romani Rokkeripen To-Divvus (Thomas Acton and Donald Kenrick, 1984) records mandi [= ‘I’], buer [= ‘woman’] and rokker [= ‘to talk, speak’].

Jel down the tober to see my little chavvis in my vardo  (BL shelfmark C1442/2355) 

Mandi don't know what the buer is rokkering (BL shelfmark C1442/1079)

Over 400 recordings capturing English dialect and slang worldwide can be found in the Evolving English Wordbank collection on British Library Sounds.  

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