Tower of Babble

Mar 30, 2006 1:33pm

On the way to putting together today’s WNT Webcast, we tripped across a fascinating website at George Mason University called "The Speech Accent Archive."  It was put together by an English professor there, Steven H. Weinberger, and it’s addictive. 

Prof. Weinberger’s premise: "Everyone who speaks a language, speaks it with an accent…. When people listen to someone speak with a different accent from their own, they notice the difference, and they may even make certain biased social judgments about the speaker."

So he and his team gathered volunteers from around the world, and had them read the same standard paragraph, chosen because it contains almost all the sounds in the English language:

"Please call Stella.  Ask her to bring these things with her from the store:  Six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob…."

If you have two hours to kill, turn on your computer’s speaker and go to the site: http://accent.gmu.edu/index.php  It’s surprising how many different ways there are to pronounce "slabs of blue cheese"–and how easy it is to misunderstand them.

We’ve made this the closing piece on today’s webcast.  Thanks to Zach Fannin, Tom Johnson and Nick Schifrin for drawing me in. 

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Climate Change Followup

Thanks again to all who posted comments on our series.  Here are a couple of resources that might be useful.

First, a summary of climate research from the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based think tank that I’ve found helpful in the past: 

"2005 was a year in which the scientific discoveries and new research on climate change confirmed the fears and concerns of the science community. The findings reported in the peer-reviewed journals last year point to an unavoidable conclusion: The physical consequences of climate change are no longer theoretical; they are real, they are here, and they can be quantified."

The rest of their summary (quite detailed) is HERE.

Now, some words from Freeman Dyson, the well-known physicist.  This from a speech he gave last year at the University of Michigan:

"I’m not saying the warming doesn’t cause problems, obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it. I’m saying that the problems are being grossly exaggerated. They take away money and attention from other problems that are much more urgent and important. Poverty, infectious diseases, public education and public health. Not to mention the preservation of living creatures on land and in the oceans….."

The rest is HERE.

I tried to pick material from two honest brokers.  Please let me know if they launch any new thoughts.

–Ned

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