Whilst the article posted a few days ago came from the Daily Mail it appears that (as usual with the DM) this is not current news.

British Library WW1 POW audio recordings

From the British Library, news of a new collection of 821 POW audio recordings held in Berlin, including some Scottish material:

The British Library has acquired an archive of 821 digital audio recordings from shellac discs (original gramophones) held at the Berliner Lautarchiv at the Humboldt University in Berlin, including the oldest known collection of English dialect sound recordings in existence.

Two hundred of the recordings feature a variety of indigenous languages of British colonial troops held in captivity on German soil between 1916 and 1918. They include speeches, recitals of songs and folk tales and renditions of the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the speaker's native dialect. The diverse range of English dialects - over 140 recordings of soldiers from across the UK, including Aberdeen, Macclesfield, Bletchington and Wolverhampton - and languages, including Hindi, Punjabi, Pashto and Bengali, demonstrate the breadth of those who fought for Great Britain.

The recordings range in length from less than a minute to just over 4 minutes. Although the sound recordings do not provide much detail about what life was like in POW camps or during the war, the accompanying paperwork reveals some of the soldiers' life stories, detailing their age, regiment and aspects of their civilian life – information which enables researchers to trace descendants and find out more about their wartime service.

The original recordings were made between 1916 and 1938 by Wilhelm Doegen, a linguist who studied at Oxford in the early 1900s. During WWI, he was given the opportunity to record the dialects and phonetics of British POWs held on German soil, working with linguists and anthropologists based at German universities.

Doegen pioneered the use of sound recordings in language teaching materials. As a result, most of the POW recordings have phonetic transcriptions which are fascinating as they are very early attempts to codify language in this way before the International Phonetic Alphabet was standardised.

Jonathan Robinson, Social Science Curator at the British Library, said:

“Recorded in extraordinary circumstances in German prisoner of war camps, these recordings represent some of the very earliest attempts to capture the sounds of English and other languages using audio technology. The accompanying documentation gives us a glimpse into pioneering attempts to transcribe speech sounds at a time when linguists were close to establishing the International Phonetic Alphabet.”

The collection also features recordings made for the Prussian State Library Sound Department including 260 Irish Gaelic recordings made after the war in regions located in what are now Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and a handful in the Arapaho and Siouan languages recorded in Berlin.

Other recordings include political speeches, writers reading from their work and English language teaching materials, and even feature a number of well known figures. One of these, Daniel Jones, was Professor of Phonetics at UCL and sat, along with George Bernard Shaw, on the Leith Committee that was influential in establishing Received Pronunciation as the voice of the fledgling BBC in 1922. He was a key figure in the development of what we now often refer to as BBC English and is also thought to be the inspiration for the character of Henry Higgins in Shaw's Pygmalion.

For more information about the British Library's Sound Archive, please visit: