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Accents and dialects

The British Library holds a large number of sound recordings that detail accents and dialects. Users of this material range from actors and performers to students of the social sciences.

The British Library has a substantial collection of spoken voice recordings that can be used for the study of language and linguistic behaviour. The social sciences enquiry team can help for enquiries regarding sociolinguistics.

Where the origin and background of the speakers can be verified, many radio broadcast recordings function as source material for the study of (primarily English language) accent and dialect. Regionally travelling talk shows, such as Harry Hopeful (1935) and Down Your Way (1946-), and interview programmes in which the subjects typically discuss their lives and interests (Desert Island Discs), can be added to language/ dialect-focused programming such as The Way we Speak (1937) and the BBC's Voices (2004-2005).

For general purposes outside of the discipline of sociolinguistics (such as acting and performing), recordings of local speech from over 600 locations across England can be accessed on the British Library Sounds website. Visitors to the British Library's reading rooms can also access a growing number of accents and dialects in the reading rooms via SoundServer. Please consult the Listening and Viewing Service for further information.

Accessing the collection

To access sound and moving image material:

  • Use the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue to search for recordings.
  • The Listening and Viewing Service provides free public access to the Sound Archive's collections of recorded sound and video in St Pancras. Sound recordings can be accessed in Boston Spa also.
  • The Sound Archive Information Service is based in Humanities - floor 2 in St Pancras where books, discographies, periodicals and magazines are available on open access.
  • Many sound recordings have been digitised and are presented on the British Library Sounds website. A large number of the recordings are freely available for listening online though some are restricted to users in accredited Higher Education establishments.
  • The Transcription Service can provide copies of recordings once the appropriate copyright has been cleared.

Further information

Sound & Vision Reference Service
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7831
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7691

E-mail: Ask the Reference Team