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Voices of the UK

The Voices of the UK project, funded by The Leverhulme Trust from 2009 to 2012, is the first attempt to present significant amounts of data emerging from a nationwide survey of spoken English since the 1950s.

Voices of the UK presents:

BBC Voices Recordings

The BBC Voices Recordings is an audio archive of group conversations made in 303 locations across the UK by BBC Local and Nations Radio in 2004 and 2005. The recordings involve 1,293 speakers discussing their words for 40 prompt terms (e.g. 'mother', 'tired' and 'to play truant') and exploring the language they use and encounter in their daily lives.

Linguistic descriptions

Detailed descriptions of the linguistic content of selected recordings have been created and published at BL Sounds alongside the corresponding audio file. These descriptions constitute a unique record of spoken English in the UK at the start of the 21st century and present linguistic features in four categories:

Elicited lexis: a list of responses to 40 prompt words

Spontaneous lexis: a glossary of spontaneously occurring words and phrases that contrast with mainstream usage and potentially reflect regional and/or social variation (e.g. ‘slape’ [= 'slippery'] or 'court' [= 'to date/go out with'])

Phonology: an auditory assessment presented in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) of (i) vowel sounds arranged according to Wells’s lexical sets; (ii) consonantal features (e.g. H-dropping: 'happy' [api] for /hapi/); and (iii) selected continuous speech processes (e.g. secondary contraction: 'haven’t' as [ant])

Grammar: an inventory of forms that contrast with Standard British English presented using neutral terminology (e.g. 'generalisation of simple past': that man’s never spoke to me from that day to this)

Project team

Principal Investigator

Jonnie Robinson
Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics and Education, British Library


Dr Rob Perks
Lead Curator for Oral History, British Library Sound Archive

Research Assistant

Dr Jon Herring, British Library

Project Worker

Holly Gilbert, British Library

Linguistic Advisors

Professor Clive Upton, University of Leeds
Professor Joan Beal, University of Sheffield
Dr Natalie Braber, Nottingham Trent University
Dr Rob Penhallurick, University of Swansea