Uncovered: Lost British accents from prison camps of WW1

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by YesItsMe, Nov 11, 2009.

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  1. YesItsMe

    YesItsMe LE Good Egg (charities)

    British Library gets recordings of PoWs, captured by a German linguist, highlighting regional accents


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    British troops march towards trenches near Ypres at the Western Front during the first world war. Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis


    Crackling and quavering over the distance of almost a century, the voice of George Campbell from Aberdeen still rings out sweet and cheerful. His song was the Bonnie Banks o'Loch Lomond, and although on 22 July 1916 he was a prisoner behind the wire of Sennelager camp in Germany, he had good reason to hope he would see those bonnie banks and braes again, unlike his comrades still floundering and dying in the mud of the trenches.

    Campbell's is among hundreds of voices of men who escaped the hell of the Western Front by being taken prisoner, only to be confronted by an ardent young German linguist with a crate of shellac discs and a portable recording device. Their voices, recorded in German prisoner of war camps between 1916 and 1918, survived in the Berliner Lautarchiv. The British Library has now acquired digital copies of all the British voices and documentation.

    In 1916 Wilhelm Doegen, a linguist and phoneticist who had studied at Oxford in the 1900s, realised that fate had provided him with a captive audience, literally, and an extraordinary variety of accents and languages of the British empire including Hindi, Bengali and Punjabi, Welsh, Scots and Irish voices.

    He got special permission from the authorities to take his equipment into camps including Sennelager in Westphalia, and Wunsdorf in Brandenburg, where along with Indian and African troops singing and telling folk tales in their own languages he recorded regional accents from all over Britain, many now virtually extinct, including voices from Aberdeen, Macclesfield, Bletchington and Wolverhampton. It is the oldest collection of English dialect recordings in the world.

    Full article can be found here.
     
  2. Quite eerie listening to the voices, surprising that after only a century regional accents have changed so much to the point where they are barely distinguishable.
     
  3. There was a documntary about this last year I think.. and they found the relatives of some of the men recorded and played it to them to see how the dialects had changed.... very moving to see the families listening to their long lost relations...
     
  4. YesItsMe

    YesItsMe LE Good Egg (charities)

    Yes, that must be hounting and quite spooky as well I guess.
     
  5. Interesting also to realise the story they were telling. Not a first choice for a similar exercise today, I'd guess.

    It makes me understand better how difficult it must have been for men to communicate with each other.
     
  6. A tad off topic, but this reminds me of a documentary I saw about a lip reader who was able to understand (and tell us) what soldiers were saying in footage from the trenches. Unfortunately I can't remember what it was called.
     
  7. The Battle of the Somme - the true story
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgPcko8XLKE&feature=related

    GREAT documentary
     
  8. Funnily enough, according to the book I'm reading at the moment (The Discovery of France, by Graham Robb) when Napoleon sent out bureaucrats to ascertain how much the different languages and dialects of France varied, it was the story of the prodigal son that was used as the text/benchmark. Maybe the German was familiar with the exercise, or maybe it is the standard text for this kind of thing.
     
  9. Well I never. :D
     
  10. Makes me realise just how old I am. Soldiers from those towns were still speaking in those accents when I was serving! Mind you thae loons fae Aiberdeen were aye deeficult tae understand. Fit like min?
     
  11. Chappin' awa ye ken? Mechty me, it's a sair facht.