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Department of Linguistics

What can archival recorded interviews tell you about the accent?

Our work on the Australian Ancestors' project involves collecting archival recordings from elderly Australians to examine their accents. We know that accents are constantly changing and that once a person reaches adulthood their accent changes far less than changes occurring in the community. This is because it is typically younger people who initiate accent change. So we can identify a speaker as older, not just by the quality/tone of their voice but by their accent. This is because they use older forms of the language.

Work on historical accents helps us to trace the origins and evolution of Australian English. It gives us a way of looking back to the past. Of course we cannot tell exactly what the accent was like in the very early days of white settlement in Australia because we have no recordings from that period but we do have sound files recorded in the 20th century of speakers who were born in the later part of the 19th century. These sound recordings will give us clues about how the modern day accent developed. Through this research we will be able to develop and test theories of sound change and possibly make some predictions about the future direction of change.