West Yorkshire accent study could help police crack criminal cases

Geoffrey Boycott, proud owner of one of the best-known Yorkshire accents
Geoffrey Boycott, proud owner of one of the best-known Yorkshire accents
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It’s instantly recognisable and known around the world, but as anyone from Yorkshire will tell you, the sound of our local accent varies depending on who in the region is using it.

And now a Huddersfield forensic speech scientist is to embark on a £360,000 academic project defining the West Yorkshire accent in a bid to help police use voice evidence in criminal investigations.

Dr Erica Gold, a Senior Lecturer in Forensic Speech Science at the University of Huddersfield, is carrying out an Economic and Social Research Council project exploring how accents can be defined for forensic evidence purposes.

According to the university, forensic speech science – an applied sub-discipline of phonetics – has come to play a critical role in criminal cases involving voice evidence.

Often experts are asked to compare a criminal recording, such as a threatening phone call or bomb threat, with a known sample from the suspect, such as a police interview.

Forensic speech scientist are called to advise judges or juries how likely it is that two sets of speech are from the same person.

Dr Gold came to the University of Huddersfield in 2014 but hails from San Diego, California. She describes her own accent “as a southern California accent with a little bit of northern British sprinkled on top”.

Her project involves collecting a large database of 180 speakers from different areas of West Yorkshire.

As a result, it is hoped that solutions or recommendations might be available for actual forensic speaker comparison cases and what population data an expert might be able to consult in their analysis.

University officials say the West Yorkshire database “will also serve as a unique resource that will shed light on characteristics present in West Yorkshire accents”.

Among the best-known Yorkshire accents are those of cricketer Geoffrey Boycott, who was born in Fitzwilliam, and presenter Michael Parkinson, from Cudworth.