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Online game explores the way Australians speak

Catherine Travis, Evolution

Date: 13 November 2017

A new online game launched today explores how much we can tell about Australians based on the way they speak.

The Sydney Speaks app plays voice recordings from a range of Australians and asks players to guess details about the speaker, such as occupation, age, region and ethnic background.

The app has been jointly developed by researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (CoEDL), The Australian National University (ANU), the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and Australian Museum as part of the ‘This is a Voice’ exhibition, currently on at the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, Sydney.

Lead researcher Professor Catherine Travis, Professor of Modern European Languages in the ANU School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics and CoEDL Chief Investigator, said our speech was primarily influenced by those we spend time with.

“While we might think people who grew up speaking Greek or English in Australia might always sound different, speech patterns may be more strongly influenced by who we interact with on a daily basis, or even who we want to sound or be like," Professor Travis said.

“People make judgements about other people based on the way they speak.

“What the game shows you is that sometimes those judgements might be correct, but other times they’re not.”

The game is based on the ongoing CoEDL funded Sydney Speaks research project which explores how Australian English has changed over time.

“We know our ethnic linguistic make up has changed dramatically over the last 30 years,” she said.

“We have recordings from the 1970s when Italians and Greeks were Australia’s main migrant groups, and we are now collecting new recordings of communities that reflect today’s make up.

“One question we’re asking is whether migrants change the shape of Australian English.”

The This is a Voice exhibition is on at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney until 28 January 2018.

You can access the game via the Sydney Speaks webpage here.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University