Hey, Google. Can you understand my accent?
Of course. You have an incredibly pleasing dialect.
So began my Saturday morning discussion with my Google Home Mini. And while I was happy to receive a compliment about my speech, that wasn’t my motivation for asking the question. Our human-to-robot chat was triggered by recent news reports claiming that voice assistants are likely to “stamp out”, “kill off” and make us “lose” our regional accents, described by some as “under threat”.
Another apocalyptic story about language and another call for linguists to do some myth-busting, then.
These scaremongering headlines relate to the findings of a recent survey by the Life Science Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne, which claims that 79% of visitors to its Robots – Then and Now exhibition reported altering the way they speak in order to be understood by voice assistants, such as Alexa (Amazon), Google Assistant, Siri (Apple) and Cortana (Microsoft). Crucially, these visitors also reported having regional British accents, and their perceived need to accent-shift highlights two issues.
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