UC Berkeley is asking incoming students to participate in an unusual icebreaker this year focusing on “linguistic diversity and the many cultural, scientific and psychological aspects of language.” L.A. Times reports:
“‘Along with helping the newcomers break the ice through shared readings and discussions, the campus’ College of Letters & Science wants students to record their own speech in an ambitious Internet-based experiment to map and match accents from across the state and world.
With about 30% of incoming UC Berkeley students reporting that English was not their first language, exploring that linguistic diversity is a good way to help students feel comfortable at such a large school, faculty organizers said.”
Wait one minute, 30 percent ESL, really? I digress.
“Freshmen and transfer students have been asked to record, in English via the Web, a shout-out to Berkeley sports teams — ‘Go Bears!’ — along with five mouth-stretching sentences, including: ‘She had your dark suit in greasy wash water all year.’ They then read an arithmetic problem in their native tongues, which could total about 50 languages.
The voice samples will be attached anonymously to an interactive world map so other participants can hear them, and each student will be matched through a voice recognition program with five others who have similar pronunciations.”
The study is more than just an unorthodox way to introduce the 5,800 incoming students. Researchers hope to analyze current California accents, and possibly after making new recordings in 2013 and 2015, determine if “being at UC homogenized their accents into distinctive speech subgroups.”
UC Berkeley’s 2010 freshman orientation created a stir when the university asked new students to send saliva samples for voluntary DNA testing for three dietary traits. What was originally intended to be a G-rated “getting to know you” exercise, became a national debate regarding privacy concerns.
Hopefully students will only homogenize their accents, instead of opinions.