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Tuesday 25 July 2023

Accents and Subtitles

When my mother-in-law used to travel up from the South to visit us, and passed through Barnsley on the train, one of her worst fears was that her grandchildren would grow up to have accents like those she heard around her. The broad Barnsley accent can be quite difficult to follow, and unintelligible to many from the South.

Some of our children’s contemporaries did indeed speak like that, but not them. As I mentioned in the last two posts, our daughter was teased at school for sounding ‘posh’, and was embarrassed by her voice in the two stop-motion video stories we made when she was little. It was quite a surprise when she said recently it is now her Yorkshire accent that bothers her.

The rather impressive subtitling on YouTube has no problem with it. It transcribes almost all of it correctly. In fact, I wasn’t quite sure of the word “daydreaming” until I switched them on. 

I doubt it would have so little trouble with unmodified Barnsley. I also wonder what it would have made of my mother-in-law’s mixture of South London and “Snolbans”. I endlessly mimicked her pronunciation of “strawbrizz, raarzbrizz and guzzbrizz”? “They are raarzbrizz, not rasp berries,” she would strike back.

And what of my own unbroken childhood accent? It can be heard in an exchange 45 seconds into the compilation I made from the old take of my dad singing and reading poetry (Days of Wine and Roses, May 1st). It includes the following exchange:

        Dad: Right. I am now about to begin.
        Me: You
’ll ave all the laughing in.
        Brother: Yes, you will, won
t you.
        (more laughter)
        Me: Hey! When you
think about it what were all laughin at? It's a waste of tape.
        Dad: My tape.

Embarrassing as I now find it (and there is a good deal more on the full tape), the YouTube subtitling copes with it surprisingly well. And although it struggles in places, it even follows most of my then sixty-five year-old Grandma’s village accent, fashioned before the First World War, as heard playing with my baby cousin later in the extract.  

I also had a cassette tape of chatting with friends as teenagers. Listening again recently, I was appalled, not only by the accents, but also by the language used and what was being said. I rapidly abandoned my first idea of sending it to them and threw it away. Now, I wonder what the subtitling would of made of it. I can’t imagine. We don’t always like what we see or hear when we look back.

There is one further aspect of YouTube subtitling I find astonishing. It can automatically translate into any one of over a hundred and twenty other languages. For example, if you want it in French: 

Not always perfect, but it can only get better. It can even do Welsh, Irish, and Scottish Gaelic. Who knows, one day it might be able to do Manx and the Yorkshire dialect?

Monday 17 July 2023

Molly’s Twin

The last post told how our then eight year-old daughter was able to make a stop-motion animation story, Molly’s Family, using her wooden dolls house and a video camera I’d borrowed from work. Our next attempt was more sophisticated, with sound effects and a few facial movements. It was also a better story.

For now forgotten reasons, she had two almost identical sets of figures for her dolls house. The story came from that. 

For so many years, she did not want these videos to be seen. She was embarrassed by her voice. At school she was called ‘posh’ because her accent was not as strongly Yorkshire as most of the others’. Now, her Yorkshire accent is all she hears.

Here is the second video, Molly’s Twin, with mums resting and drinking tea, and dads spending all their time playing on the computer.    


Monday 10 July 2023

Molly’s Family

One of the perks of working in a university is that you get to play with the latest bits of kit.

I was asked to get involved in one of the new multimedia courses springing up around the U.K. in the mid nineteen-nineties. Surprisingly, many were in engineering departments. I believe the first was started by engineers at Bradford University around 1993.

One element of our new course was digital video. We were all encouraged to understand how it worked. As a result I was allowed to borrow one of our new hand-held video cameras and take it home. It was great fun filming our children when little, playing in an inflatable dinghy in the natural pool on the beach at Sandsend.

I know that sounds like a frivolous waste of taxpayers’ money, but we needed to know how to use these new technologies ourselves, and understand how they might relate to other parts of the course and what their possibilities might be. Silicon Valley technology companies often allow staff time to ‘play’ with new software and equipment because it generates innovative ideas. In our case, it led to course developments and research funding. 

Handling a video on a computer was not straightforward then. You had to run it through programs to digitise and ‘render’ it into a viewable form. You needed to be aware of the type of video coding (‘codec’) you were using. Only then could you begin to edit it or write programs to do state-of-the-art clever things such as spotting objects and faces. There would be a lot of ‘re-rendering’. Computers were so slow that every stage took ages. Nothing was automatic and effortless like now.

Back home, I realised that the camera made it easy to create stop-motion animation. With my then eight year-old daughter’s lovely wooden dolls’ house, the figures that went with it, and her enthusiasm and child’s take on family life around her, this, below, was one of our first attempts. Yet another example of something that would be much easier with today’s software. You wouldn’t even need a real dolls house. I know which I think the most fun.

She made up most of the story and moved the figures, while I mainly operated the camera. Surely, the story is not based on her own family, is it?

Sunday 2 July 2023


New Month Old Post: first posted 12th November, 2016.

He was to be President of the United States, but across the North of England the word ‘trump’ remained an acceptable, almost polite substitute for the four letter word beginning with ‘f’ and ending with ‘t’ which to my mind is so coarse and common I can hardly bring myself to write it.

“Poo! Who’s trumped?” my mother would exclaim on walking into the room where my brother and I were playing. We might say that too, but if either of us had used the f-synonym we would have had our faces slapped as hard as if we had used that other f-word; not that we had ever heard either in those innocent times.

I was around eleven when I first heard the more common term for trumping. It came from an adult. We were on holiday near Southampton and had driven to London airport (not yet called Heathrow) to wave my aunt and cousins off to Aden. We waited inside a high glass-walled enclosure for their BOAC Britannia to take to the air, sheltered from the roar of the engines but not from the acrid smell of the fuel. It was close and stuffy, and the kerosene hung around us mixing with the pong from the clothes of a family friend who had been sick on the train travelling down with my aunt. To make matters worse my brother periodically kept discharging his own contribution into the atmosphere. We used to eat meat in those days.

I was mortified when another aero-watcher, a middle aged man, turned and forcefully told me to stop farting. I had no idea what he meant. The embarrassment stemmed not from what I had been wrongly accused of but from the fact that a complete stranger had spoken to me.

On another early nineteen-sixties holiday we drove to Devon in a hired Hillman Minx. It was a long journey from Yorkshire in those pre-motorway days, and as dusk fell we were still miles from our lodgings. My brother and I lay on the back seat comatose with headaches, trumping.

“Good God! It smells as if somebody’s babbered themselves,” complained Mum. I knew it was bad because she rarely blasphemed.

“Can we have a drink of water?”

“No. You’ll be widdling and piddling all the way. You’ll have pickled yersel’s before we get there.”

“I could do with a jimmy riddle myself,” said Dad from the driving seat.

Like most people from the South, my wife had never come across this usage of the word ‘trump’, but she soon picked it up, as of course have our children. It seems more humorous than offensive.

I am convinced it used to appear in a dictionary we had at Junior School. We used to look it up and giggle. “Trump”, it read, “a small explosion between the legs.” Perhaps I am mistaken because I cannot find it anywhere now. I am told, however, that the Oxford English has the definition: “to break wind audibly (slang or vulgar).”

But as for “President Trump”, to me it sounds more of a command than a title of high status.