Blog Excerpts

A Survey of North American Accents

Did you grow up speaking English in America or Canada? Then you can take part in an ambitious online project to gather information about the many diverse accents of North American English. All you need is a computer with a microphone, and your voice can be heard!

The linguistic survey is a new project from researchers at Yale University and the University of Auckland (yes, New Zealanders care about North American English, too). To participate in the survey only takes about three minutes. The full details follow below.

North American English Dialect Survey

We are doing research on different accents in American English. We know that Americans and Canadians have a great deal in common in the way they speak, but there are also differences. In order to study the ways that North American accents differ, we have put together a survey of common words, and we'd like you to participate!

Who can participate? 

We'd like recordings from anyone who has grown up speaking English in America or Canada. We would like to get information about as many different types of American English as possible. The more diverse our participants, the more representative it will be of the ways Americans speak.

What equipment do I need?

We are making these recordings over the internet using a flash software application hosted by Evoca. To make a recording with your computer, you need a computer with a microphone and a sound card. If you use a program like Skype to make phone calls to another computer (or to a telephone), you have all the equipment you need. Your computer's internal microphone is usually good enough, or you can use an external microphone or headset. Your web browser also needs to have Flash enabled.

What information do I need to give?

We need to ask some information about you. There are lots of factors that can influence how people speak. This is what we would like to know:

  •  your age
  •  your ethnicity
  •  your gender
  •  your current zip code
  •  if your parents speak another language natively
  •  if you speak another language other than English natively
  •  where you went to high school (zip code or city, state)

What happens if I don't want to provide this information? Can I still participate?

Yes, but in order to use your results, we need at least your current zip code. We hope you'll answer all the questions, but if not, that's ok.

What do I do in the survey?

We want to record speech examples from as many people as possible, but it is not feasible for us to record participants in person. That's why we've set up this web site. When you click on the link below, a web page will come up with a recording box and a set of questions to enter into the comments box for the recording. When you're ready to begin the survey, there will be a "record" button to click on. You can then read aloud the words for the experiment.

When you've finished the words, press the "stop" button and the "send" button. The whole survey will take about 3 minutes to do.

Note: Clicking on the record button signals your consent to be recorded and to have your recording used in our research project. All recordings are anonymous, so once the recording is made we will not be able to link it to you or withdraw it from the study for you.

What will happen to the recordings?

We'll be keeping the original recordings for research purposes. . The information you have provided will be entered into a database and your word pronunciation will be analysed statistically, along with all the other respondents to the survey. While we may release the dataset to other researchers with an interest in this topic, we won't be selling any of the information. Note that once the recording is made, we will have no way to link it to you.

Can I get a copy of the results?

Once the project is finished, we will writing a non-technical description of the results which will be published on this web page. We will also be publishing the results. You can also email us for further information.

Thanks for participating!

When you're ready to do the survey, please click the "continue" button.

Click here to continue [survey will open in a new window]

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Comments from our users:

Thursday June 24th 2010, 8:42 AM
Comment by: Wightly (Frederick, MD)
I will be interested to hear if you find significant differences across age groups within a region.
Thursday June 24th 2010, 11:24 AM
Comment by: Roger Dee (Haslett, MI)Top 10 Commenter
I see this as a most fascinating project!
I am aware of many local differences from Detroit to Toronto to Chicago even. Not just the mess of dialects found in NYC!
For one, the words frog, fog, bog, are made fun of when I say them compared to "Standard English".
Thursday June 24th 2010, 11:30 AM
Comment by: Suzy T. (La Jolla, CA)
Excellent project. I'll participate, but it will skew your results. I grew up in eight states, ranging from Florida to Texas to Nebraska to California.
Thursday June 24th 2010, 1:54 PM
Comment by: Cody (Eugene, OR)
This is very exciting, and I hope to take part.

However, as an editor, I couldn't stop myself when I found a missing word, a grammatical error, and passive voice in one sentence! I have to correct you. You wrote:

Once the project is finished, we will writing a non-technical description of the results which will be published on this web page. We will also be publishing the results. You can also email us for further information.

I think you should have written:
Once the project is finished, we will be writing a non-technical description of the results that we will publish on this web page. We will also be publishing the results. You can also email us for further information.

As other editors know, we can't turn it off: it's like a tic! If you prefer the word "which" as you did, then you need a comma between "results" and "which." Otherwise, you need "that."

I suppose when I do the survey, my accent will sounds like "nag!"
Thursday June 24th 2010, 4:07 PM
Comment by: Doc (Chicago, IL)
Cody, I'll bet you can turn it off if you really try . . .
Monday June 28th 2010, 9:52 PM
Comment by: Pilar C. (Roslindale, MA)
I hope that the results from this research will serve to correlate English accents from speakers whose English is their first language, with accents from people whose English is their second language. I am expecting to read on your website a convincing conclusion or confirmation about the fact that the so-called "foreign" accents can be equally intelligible or as indiscernible as the so-called "native" accents. Please do publish something on this regard so that your ethnographic research can help to debunk the fallacies about the "foreign" accents, especially when they are Spanish accents. Just look what is happening in Arizona! Thank you.
Monday June 28th 2010, 11:24 PM
Comment by: Suzy T. (La Jolla, CA)
Pilar is right. For years I have found the pronunciation of California English speakers to be so sloppy as to be almost unintelligible, especially on the phone. Recently, I thanked a caller, whose first language was Japanese, because her English, though accented, was exquisitely clear.

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