English accents and dialects

Stanley Ellis (SED fieldworker) and Tom Maddison  c.1967
Stanley Ellis (SED fieldworker) and Tom Maddison c.1967 © University of Leeds

We have an extensive collection of spoken voice recordings that can be used for a variety of linguistic research purposes and for exploring English accents, dialects, and language variation and change.

About the collection

The British Library holds sound recordings that document spoken English over a period of more than 100 years. The recordings range from ‘performance’, such as speeches, literary productions, audio books, public talks and lectures to more ‘naturalistic’ speech data contained in linguistic surveys, oral history interviews and radio and television broadcasts. These recordings capture prestigious and vernacular varieties of spoken English and are a useful resource for academic linguists, school teachers and students, learners of English as a foreign language and creative audiences, including authors, actors, journalists and script writers.

We hold unique unpublished sound recordings relating to several significant nationwide surveys of regional speech in the UK; most notably the prestigious Survey of English Dialects recorded in the 1950s, the audio component of the British National Corpus (1990s), BBC Voices Recordings (2004/5) and the Evolving English VoiceBank, created in 2010/11 by visitors to our Evolving English exhibition. In addition, the Library’s Oral History collections represent a rich source of spontaneous speech data recorded with speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds. Historic and contemporary recordings in our Drama and Literature and Radio collections provide evidence of performance and broadcast voices across time.

What is available online?

Several dialect collections are presented on our Sounds website. Most recordings are freely available for listening online though some are restricted to users in accredited higher education establishments.

Sounds Familiar? is a dedicated educational resource that celebrates and explores varieties of English in the UK.

You can also use the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue to search for recordings.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The Listening and Viewing Service provides free public access to our collections of recorded sound and video in St Pancras.

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.

Further information

Jonnie Robinson
Lead Curator, Spoken English
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7412
Email: jonathan.robinson@bl.uk

How to guides

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With our Listening and Viewing Service you can access our extensive collection of recorded sound and video. The collection includes: music, wildlife, drama, literature, oral history and archived BBC Radio broadcasts.

How to request a copy of a sound recording

The British Library can provide copies of audio recordings held in the collections to users who are able to obtain the appropriate copyright clearance.

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The Library can provide copies of wildlife and environmental recordings held in the collections, subject to some restrictions.

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