Steven Weinberger is the director of linguistics in the English Department at
George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Professor Weinberger says students
in his beginning phonetics class are mostly interested in teaching English as a
second language. They wanted to study how non-native speakers pronounce
STEVEN WEINBERGER: "So we sent the students out to record non-native speakers,
and we compared those speakers to each other and to native speakers of English."
Professor Weinberger wrote a paragraph for all of the speakers to read. The
paragraph uses common words but contains almost all of the sounds used in
English. Here is that sixty-nine-word paragraph read by our own Bob Doughty:
BOB DOUGHTY: “Please call Stella. Ask her to bring these things with her from
the store: Six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and
maybe a snack for her brother Bob. We also need a small plastic snake and a big
toy frog for the kids. She can scoop these things into three red bags, and we
will go meet her Wednesday at the train station.”
In nineteen ninety-nine, Professor Weinberger put the recordings online. The
Speech Accent Archive is for anyone who wants to compare and analyze the accents
of different English speakers.
For example, here is a thirty-two-year-old Iraqi man:
IRAQI MAN: “Please call Stella. Ask her to bring these things with her from
And here is a twenty-three-year-old woman from Eritrea:
ERITREAN WOMAN: “Six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue
cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob.”
Some people think the archive would be better if it included natural speech
-- people talking freely, not just reading the same words. Professor Weinberger
recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of his site.
STEVEN WEINBERGER: “The biggest plus, of course, is that it is so uniform
that you can immediately compare a Kiswahili speaker to a native English speaker.
But the downside is that a less-than-skilled reader will have difficulties with
the paragraph that might not demonstrate their true phonetic abilities.”
People often use sounds from their first language until they can reproduce
the ones used in the language they are learning.
Professor Weinberger says the site gets a million visits a month.
STEVEN WEINBERGER: “We get notices from speech pathologists, from
computational engineers who do speech processing, from PhD students who want to
do research on bias and accent judgments, from actors who need to learn a
The archive contains more than one thousand five hundred recordings. These
can be searched many ways, including by place of birth and the age at which the
speaker began to learn English.
Professor Weinberger would like more people to send in their own samples of
the sixty-nine-word paragraph.
STEVEN WEINBERGER: "Right now we only have samples from about three hundred
fifty languages, including English. You know, there are six thousand languages
in the world today, so we need lots more. That’s why the archive work will never
And that’s the VOA Special English Education Report. You can find a link to
the Speech Accent Archive at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Christopher Cruise.