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Sydney Speaks app features in new exhibition

Evolution, Sydney Speaks

Date: 14 August 2017

It’s been a great month for exhibitions and public outreach for CoEDL, with three exhibitions currently running in Australia that feature language elements developed by CoEDL people.

Last Thursday (10 August), was the opening of the ‘This is a Voice’ exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, featuring the Sydney Speaks app, developed by CI Catherine Travis, RA Cale Johnstone and postdoc James Grama, in collaboration with MAAS (Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and Australian Museum), and with the support of CI Caroline Jones and Barbara Horvath (Sydney University).

The exhibition is running at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney from 11 August 2017 to 28 January 2018.

The Sydney Speaks app, an interactive tool, involves hearing clips of speakers and matching them with social characteristics (occupation, region, ethnicity and age). “The public are invited to listen to a series of speakers and try to match them to occupations, and after that match a new series of speakers to certain age groups and so on,” says Professor Travis. “On opening night, we enjoyed watching members of the public use the app and hope that it makes them more aware of variation in Australian English, and possibly challenge some of their assumptions. For example, 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 who we want to sound or be like)." 

Members of the public explore the exhibition 'This is a Voice'

The theme of speech and identity was picked up by the NSW Minister for the Arts, Don Harwin, during the opening of the exhibition. He spoke positively about the way the exhibition drew attention to greater issues of identity and stereotyping.

CoEDL’s Sydney Speaks team is working on a project to document and explore Australian English as spoken in Sydney, which is Australia’s largest and most ethnically diverse city. The data they are analysing comes from recorded conversations between Sydney siders, as they tell their stories about their lives and experiences, their opinions and attitudes. The team is examining variation in phonetics, grammar and discourse, to answer questions such as, ‘How has Australian English as spoken in Sydney changed over the past 100 years, and what factors have played a role in that change?’

The exhibition also features many interesting exhibits that draw on linguistic research, including an audio installation of infant-directed speech based on research by CoEDL affiliate Marina Kalashnikova, and a prototype of an artificial larynx related to Farzaneh Ahmadi’s 'bionic voice’ research. 

Cale Johnstone, Sam Yuen, James Grama, Catherine Travis, Caroline Jones and Hannah Pullin

CoEDL members at the exhibition launch: Cale Johnstone, Sam Yuen, James Grama, Catherine Travis, Caroline Jones and Hannah Pullin.

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