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7 February 2011
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'Twirlies' is the name given to pensioners by Liverpool bus crews. Their free bus passes become effective at 9am but if they arrive before this, they enquire 'Are we too early?'
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About Voices
The Voices Recordings
Language Lab online surveys

Language Lab online surveys

The Voices Language Lab is a ground-breaking attempt to measure language use across the British Isles via the internet.

We've been running four different surveys online: the Word Map, the Accent Recognition test, the BSL survey and the Welsh dialect survey. Each aims to measure a particular aspect of language use. You can see some of the results for the Word Map here.

As well as publishing some results online, they are being held by our academic collaborators so they can use them in future analysis and research.

The Word Map
Across the British Isles, we all use different words for particular things. We may not be aware that not everyone says 'mitch' to mean play truant. We may not think we speak a 'dialect' at all. But our choice of words says a lot about where we come from.

It is difficult to measure what words are being used, where, and by whom. The Word Map attempts to find out. People have told us what words they use for everything from 'grandmother' to 'young person in cheap trendy clothes and jewellery'. 62,502 users have submitted a total of 36,796 words up to April 2006.

If you register and enter your own words into the Word Map you'll see whether other people have entered that particular word and, if so, the pattern of entries across the country.

The words we've chosen to ask you about have been tested over time by experts in dialectology at the University of Leeds, as words which experience shows have many variations. However, the fact that you can't think of an alternative may also be valuable. For instance, 50 years ago, there would have been a number of different words for 'left handed'. It's of interest that now far fewer are used. This may be because there is less prejudice about left handedness than there was. Find out more about language prejudice and labelling here.

We have collated results for the first 30,000 Word Map entries, mapping the use of some of the words you have submitted across the UK. Take a look at the results. The users who submitted these words could not see the overall results, so other people's choices did not influence the words that they chose.

In choosing which words to publish online, we have looked for examples which show the greatest geographical, age, or gender variation. We have also taken into account sensitivities around the list of words submitted. For instance, the alternatives submitted for 'female partner' included some terms, used in everyday life, which nonetheless are potentially offensive when published out of context on a website. In choosing which words to render back, we have taken this into account.

We have passed all the data from those first 30,000 entries to the University of Leeds, who may use it for further research and teaching purposes.

The Accent Recognition test
It is generally agreed that we are exposed to an ever greater range of voices than in the past, thanks among other things to increased movement around the country, and the use by broadcasters of a far wider range of accents and dialects than even 20 years ago. However, linguists believe some regional voices are still more favoured than others.

If 10 out of 10 random listeners recognise immediately that a certain person comes from, say, Manchester, it may say something about the degree of prominence that voices of Manchester receive. We're measuring this with the Accent Recognition test.

We have chosen accents and languages in collaboration with Cardiff University. Each player of the test is offered 10 languages or accents, randomly selected. We've used four recordings (two male, two female) of each accent or language in turn to give variety - again Cardiff have helped select which recorded voices to use to represent each accent. They too, are randomly selected.

Up to April 2006 72,306 people have tried the Accent Recognition Test.

We will pass the data you've given us to Cardiff University for future research, as well as publishing any key findings from the survey.

British Sign Language
Although BSL is used across the British Isles, there are considerable differences in regional dialects. For instance, there are several signs meaning 'biscuit'; and different people use different signs. We want to see if we can start finding out what signs might be used where.

There has never been a comprehensive survey of BSL variation covering the whole of the British Isles, but it is possible that BSL variation is declining. The Centre for Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol have made a start by collecting signs from eight UK cities.

We have passed the data you've given us to the Centre for Deaf Studies for future research, and we will publish any findings they make.


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