10,000 voices added to British Library map of spoken English

Over 10,000 English-speakers have contributed to an audio map of the many ways in which the language is spoken today. The recordings, which will enter the permanent collections of the British Library, were made as part of the Library’s acclaimed exhibition Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices, which runs until 3 April.

As the exhibition enters its final weeks, the Library’s curators are now appealing for further contributions to the Map Your Voice project to provide a detailed snapshot of English as a global language. Visitors to the Library can record their voices using phone booths inside the exhibition, or people can contribute online at: www.bl.uk/evolvingenglish/mapabout.html

“We’ve had an extraordinary response to the Voice Map, with contributions from English speakers in locations ranging from Venezuela to Japan, from Israel to Namibia,” said Jonnie Robinson, co-curator of the exhibition and the Library’s curator of Sociolinguistics.

Contributors to the map can choose to read an extract from the Mr Men story of Mr Tickle (chosen to capture how different people pronounce the same words and phrases) or a list of six words that highlight the ways in which pronunciation is changing. So far some 9,000 people have contributed via the on-site booths and a further 1,100 online.

“UK, North American and European voices are well represented in the contributions made so far, but there are a number of regions that are currently under-represented and from which we’re very keen to receive more examples,” added Jonnie Robinson. “In particular we’d love to hear from English-speakers in the Caribbean, India, Africa, the Middle East, South America and Australasia. The more different voices we have in the map, the more valuable the resource will be for researchers in the future – and people can listen to the recordings already donated by visiting the website: www.bl.uk/evolvingenglish/maplisten.html which will remain available after the exhibition closes in April.”

UK contributions have provided insights into the way spoken English continues to develop in the internet age.

“The list that people can read from includes six words that are commonly pronounced in different ways – both within Britain and Ireland and at either side of the Atlantic,” said Jonnie Robinson. “And we’re finding that assumptions about the supposed Americanisation of British English aren’t necessarily reflected in the recordings. Some speakers in Britain and Ireland seem to have adopted new pronunciations of, for example, ‘garage’ (now more often pronounced to rhyme with ‘marriage’, rather than ‘mirage’) and ‘controversy’ (stressing the second, rather than the first syllable), where US English retains only the older pronunciation. In other cases, such as ‘scone’, speakers in the US are united (they all rhyme it with ‘bone’), while speakers in Britain, Ireland, Australia and even Canada are divided – often vociferously – over whether it rhymes with ‘bone’ or with ‘gone’.”

The closing weeks of the exhibition, which has so far attracted over 100,000 visitors, also offer the last opportunity for visitors to see landmarks from the evolution of the English language gathered together in one space, including:

  • the earliest medieval manuscript of Beowulf
  • an Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from the 11th century
  • the first book to be printed in English – Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (translated and printed by Caxton in 1473)
  • the King James Bible (1611)
  • a 17th century dictionary of criminal slang
  • A BBC manual on Broadcast English (1929)

The exhibition has been accompanied by a wide-ranging programme of events – podcasts featuring speakers such as David Crystal and Steven Pinker are available online for anyone who missed them or was unable to attend: www.bl.uk/evolvingenglish/featevents.html


Notes to Editors:

For more information, interviews or images please contact: Ben Sanderson, Chief Press Officer, British Library 01937 546126 email: ben.sanderson@bl.uk

Follow Evolving English on Twitter: #evolvingenglish

Notes to editors

Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices runs until 3 April 2011 in the PACCAR Gallery at the British Library. Admission to the exhibition is FREE.

Exhibition opening hours

Monday 09.30 – 18.00, Tuesday 09.30 – 20.00, Wednesday – Friday 09.30 – 18.00, Saturday 09.30 – 17.00, Sunday and English public holidays 11.00 – 17.00. All galleries are accessible by wheelchair. Information can be requested from Visitor Services staff on: T +44 (0)20 7412 7332.

Supported by the American Trust for the British Library.

Exhibition book and related audio CD

Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices. An Illustrated History by David Crystal will be published by British Library Publishing in October 2010, available in hardback at £25.00 (ISBN 978 0 7123 5099 0) and paperback at £16.95 (ISBN 978 0 7123 5098 3) with 160 pages, 280 x 220 mm, 150 colour illustrations.

Voices of the UK: Accents and Dialects of English gives a tour of the linguistic landscape of the UK through 143 recordings from internationally acclaimed surveys of the last 100 years. Two CD set with introductory booklet priced £15.95 (ISBN 978 0 7123 5107 2).

Available from the British Library Shop (T +44 (0)20 7412 7735 / email bl-bookshop@bl.uk) and online at www.bl.uk/shop as well as other bookshops throughout the UK.

For more information contact:

  • Ben Sanderson
  • The British Library
  • t:+44 (0) 1937 546 126
  • m:+44 (0) 7810 056848
  • f:+44 (0) 20 7412 7168
  • e: ben.sanderson@bl.uk


The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.  



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