Machines Might Not Mind Your Accent Anymore

September 12th, 2019 by For speech recognition systems, a change in the accent can be confusing. Words under the influence of local languages sound different and a typical homepod device can mistake an Asian speaking English or even something as native as a thick Irish accent. Deep Learning algorithms are the work horses behind these devices. The training data on which the models were trained could have been acquired from a single region where variations are negligible. For instance, in India, though Hindi is widely popular, the accent of a Bengali will be in stark contrast to that of a Malayali speaking Hindi. Collecting data that caters to intricacies of such native language influences can be tricky and tedious. In order to address the shortcomings of speech recognition systems, researchers at Stanford came up with a novel architecture and the experimental results show that the model has performed well in identifying the differences. Read more: Analytics India

A New Accent Is Developing in Southwest Kansas

June 22nd, 2018 by Say you're a young person living in Liberal, Kansas—a small town in the southwestern part of the state, home to about 20,000 people—and someone you know does something fun without you. “I told my friends from Liberal that I had gone to Vancouver to present some research,” says Trevin Garcia, who just graduated from Kansas State University. “As soon as I said that, they were like, ‘Oh yeah, TFTI.’” “TFTI”—pronounced “tifty”—stands for “Thanks for the invite,” Garcia explains. It’s used in a sarcastic way: “Someone does something that the other person would have liked to get in on, but didn’t find out until afterwards.” Ironically, he adds, it’s a bit of an exclusive phrase itself: “It’s very rarely that I find someone from outside of Liberal using TFTI.” The kids from Liberal are doing something else unique, too. According to new research from KSU, they’re beginning to develop a distinctive new accent. Garcia and his advisor, linguist Mary Kohn, studied the speech of people from Liberal, and compared it with the speech of Kansans from other parts of the state. They found that, likely because of the increasing number of Hispanic residents, people in Liberal are now speaking English with certain Spanish inflections. This is true even of residents who don’t speak Spanish. Garcia, who graduated from Kansas State University this past May, spent most of his young life in Liberal. “It’s a really interesting community, just because of how fast it went from being majority white to majority Hispanic,” he says. Kansas overall is quickly becoming more diverse, and meatpacking plants in the Southwest continue to draw many immigrants from Mexico. In 1980, 20 percent of Liberal’s residents were Hispanic; today, that number is 60 percent. “It’s a huge demographic shift in a really short amount of time,” says Garcia. Read more: Atlas Obscura

Does your accent make you sound smarter?

May 23rd, 2017 by They say you should always dress for success, but should that extend to the way you speak? We’re not adverse to dressing appropriately to make a good impression at work or for a social engagement, even if it means wearing clothes we wouldn’t normally choose to put on. Is changing your accent to get ahead any different? There are some famous names who have done it: Margaret Thatcher swapped her Lincolnshire accent for a posher one, adopting the standard ‘received pronunciation’ (or RP), which at the time was thought to be more in keeping with a position of political power. More recently, Tony Blair and George Osborne took their own accents in the opposite direction, introducing more working class "mockney" inflections in their upper class speech, in an attempt to enhance their perceived approachability. With such obvious changes to their accents, they were roundly mocked for lacking authenticity. A standard dialect is simply one local variety of a language which has become most publicly accepted in social institutions such as the media, the law and government. In many Anglophone countries, the dialect spoken by most of the population is considered to be standard, such as Standard American or Standard Australian English. In the UK, however, the so-called standard – known as RP or the Queen’s English – is spoken natively by less than 3%. Yet, it’s unreasonable to suppose most Britons are speaking their own language incorrectly. Read more: BBC

The Rise and Fall of Katharine Hepburn’s Fake Accent

August 9th, 2016 by "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By,'" purrs a moon-faced Ingrid Bergman in the now-famous scene from 1942's Casablanca. Staccato t's and accordion-stretched a's lend a musical flavor to Bergman's lilt. "Early" becomes "euh-ly" and "perhaps" unfolds as "peuh-haps.'" The grandeur and glamor in her voice, though, is a sham. No, really. That's not a real accent. It's a now-abandoned affectation from the period that saw the rise of matinee idols and Hitchcock's blonde bombshells. Talk like that today and be the butt of jokes (see Frasier). But in the '30s and '40s, there are almost no films in which the characters don't speak with this faux-British elocution—a hybrid of Britain's Received Pronunciation and standard American English as it exists today. It's called Mid-Atlantic English (not to be confused with local accents of the Eastern seaboard), a name that describes a birthplace halfway between Britain and America. Learned in aristocratic finishing schools or taught for use in theater to the Bergmans and Hepburns who were carefully groomed in the studio system, it was class for the masses, doled out through motion pictures. Read more: The Atlantic