Technology has developed at a rate where the gadgets of Star Trek seem near. Mobile phones are not too far off the original series’ communicators, and indeed can even be voice activated. Why press a few buttons when you can just ask Siri to perform a task for you? This technology has also been used for translation, with online applications – such as Google Translate – now able to translate your words as you speak them.
However, it also has problems. Firstly there’s the problem with translation programs in general, and secondly the issue of voice recognition software not always recognising people’s voices. If you think about it, that’s pretty important! In particular, accents and colloqualisms are not always recognised, so if you’re not from the USA then it helps to be something of an impressionist. It now remains to be seen whether voice recognition software will develop faster than users are adapting their accents.
We all have a phone voice, and adapt depending on who we’re speaking with, but ultimately these programs could result in significant changes to the way people speak. We also apparently have a “machine voice” which we use to speak to automated services. These are becoming more prevalent and in the near-future young adults won’t have known anything different, and this is part of the process that moves all regional accents towards standard English.
TV, social media, and a more cosmopolitan world in general lead to “accent levelling”, whereby people are speaking in their phone voices in everyday life, only returning to regional dialects when surrounded by close friends or family.
Voice recognition software will advance, however, to the point where it becomes more familiar with its user’s patterns. This won’t halt the advance of accent levelling, though, due to the involvement of other factors. It’s a shame, because while the standardisation of accents will make it easier to understand one another, we will also lose a variety of phrases, idioms and colloquialisms from the world.