Accent Archive Serves as Teaching Tool

Text and video by Paul King

Steven Weinberger

Mason linguistics professor Steven Weinberger sits at a computer in a small room reading a 69-word paragraph from the computer’s large monitor. It’s a short paragraph that he and his research assistants devised using virtually every English sound.

Weinberger is a linguistics czar.

In 1999, he developed the Speech Accent Archive, an online database of accents from around the world. What began as a simple idea of compiling accents online for one of his class projects has turned into an often-visited website, getting close to a million hits a month.

“It became a great learning tool,” says Weinberger. “It gave the students field work experience, recording experience, linguistic analysis experience—and it was good for the community, as well.”

Weinberger assembles a team of research assistants, transcribers, graduate students, and students from various linguistics classes each year. Each team member has a specific role, ranging from taking recordings to transcribing and analyzing submitted samples.

The team gathers high-quality recording samples using portable digital recorders in addition to the submissions they receive online from around the world on a daily basis.

Speech Accent Archive from George Mason University on Vimeo.

The archive is used as a teaching and research tool for linguistics teachers, researchers, engineers, phoneticians, speech pathologists, and even actors looking to hone an accent. Users can browse more than 1,500 different accents by language, region, and dialect.

“It’s been popular beyond my expectations. It was just a nice idea that kind of took off,” Weinberger says. “I don’t think you find many sites that have been around for 12 to 13 years.”

Weinberger foresees the archive growing tremendously over the next few years as technology continues to evolve. With help from team member and fellow Mason linguistics professor Charlie Jones, the archive is nearing its release of an iPhone app that will allow users to record and submit their samples almost instantaneously using a smartphone.

“You don’t really need a computer, you don’t need to be at a desk,” Weinberger says. “The smartphone has everything you need. It has Internet, a microphone, and software.”

This article originally appeared on the university’s News site.

To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.

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