back to article Amazon Lex can now speak British English... or simply 'English' if you're British

It's only taken three years, but the conversational interface tech underlying Amazon's Alexa assistant is now capable of the world's lingua franca in its purest form – "British English". If "color" sets your teeth on edge and "organization" makes your eye twitch, you're in for a wild ride with our San Francisco office's work …

  1. FordPrefect

    Well British English doesn't really exist. English English is one variant, Scottish English is another and from what I've heard Northern Ireland has its own unique variant.

    1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

      Well, it does exist as a standard formal written form, but the spoken and informal forms do of course vary widely from town to town, let alone from sub-nation* to sub-nation.

      *(I use this term at the risk of invoking the ire of residents of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. However, be assured that I also include England as one of the sub-nations, so please don't freak out. We're a nation of sub-nations.)

      1. Outski

        All four are nations, making up the unitary State of the UK of GB & NI.

        1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

          "making up the unitary State of the UK of GB & NI."

          At least for now. We'll see how that pans out in a few years after there's effectively been a border in the Irish sea for a while (and Scotland decides to go its own way because it voted so heavily against Brexit)...

    2. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Northern Ireland has its own unique variant.

      Several, exacerbated by Belfast people who like to pretend up the M22 a couple of miles is as far away as deep rural china is from Beijing in terms of culture, sophistication and recognisable speech patterns.

    3. wolfetone

      "from what I've heard Northern Ireland has its own unique variant"

      So it is.

      Think Jim MacDonald if you will. Remember how he used to speak so he did?

      1. James 139

        My grandmother used to really hate his accent, saying that it wasnt very realistic, she was from NI.

        All the more amusing given that the chap in question, Charles Lawson, is from Northern Ireland, and I can only assume they asked him to do some other accent that sounded like a non-native trying to put on an inaccurate impersonation of an accent.

        1. First Light Bronze badge

          Does a NI granny mean you get an Irish passport?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Born on the Isle of Eire...

            The quick answer is yes; but there's a fair amount of paperwork.

            My father in law was born in NI and my wife has an irish passport (now).

            1. Ken 16 Silver badge

              Re: Born on the Isle of Eire...

              Eire isn't an isle, it's the Irish word for sorrows, you might be thinking of Éire, the name in Irish for the country Ireland or Éireann, the Irish for Ireland but since you're writing in English you might be better sticking to 'Ireland'.

              What are they teaching in citizenship classes these days?

              1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

                Re: Born on the Isle of Eire...

                I don't think we have citizenship classes here. We didn't when I was at school and my kids didn't more recently.

                Given how our politicians can stick an oar in some so apolitical as English and Maths, it is probably for the best that we don't have Citizenship.

      2. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        I didn't really watch it, but I do remember one episode where he was, I think, on the run from the police and decided to row a boating lake row boat across from Blackpool to Belfast. It seemed perfectly reasonable at the time...

    4. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      And northern England has its own language. For example people on the Internet think I'm talking foreign when I say tret.

      eg:

      "I tret meself to a pie barm"

      1. jake Silver badge

        And now a word from my Great Grandfather:

        Ah’m fair stalled, stop faffin' about and frame thissen!

        (A Finn, he came across the country to California by covered wagon during the gold rush ... he started learning English during that trip from his first wife, a Plains Indian, who had learned English from her first husband, a Yorkshireman. How a Finn and a Plains Indian hooked up in New York City in the first place has been lost to history, alas.)

      2. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

        Ahr yo from the Bleck Coontray? Has yo bub-aye go' a cuff on har chuss?

  2. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Dragon Dictator

    My dad was never good with a keyboard so I bought him Dragon Dictate, like half a lifetime ago. He got on fine with it, but it couldn't understand a word I said. Everyone says we speak identically, but Dragon Dictate disagreed.

    More recently I bought him a Google Home for him to chat to. He wasn't impressed. He asked it, "Okay Google, who were the Famous Five?", and it correctly listed the five Hibs players from the 1950s (Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond). I asked it, "Okay Google, who were the Famous Five?", and it repeated the Enid Blyton stories.

    I concluded it had picked up on his Leith accent, and thought mine a wee bit English.

    [Or it just knew I was a bigger fan of Blyton than Hibs]

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dragon Dictator

      It knew about you and Blyton - this is Google after all.

  3. Captain Hogwash Silver badge
    Megaphone

    It's not so much spellings...

    ...as idioms that annoy me. But I suppose in San Francisco you could care less. Ugh.

    1. Symon Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: It's not so much spellings...

      I found being British a distinct advantage when I lived in the Bay Area. You can call someone a gormless bint or a ginger tosser without getting twatted. The locals were starting to catch up on the wanker thing though...

      1. Danny 2 Silver badge

        Re: It's not so much spellings...

        When I first moved to the Netherlands I was dared to ask the prettiest girl on the dance floor if she wanted a shag. "No, sorry, I don't smoke"

        Austin Powers ruined that for all us fat Scottish bastards.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: It's not so much spellings...

          Austin Powers ruined that for all us fat Scottish bastards.

          Get in ma belly

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: It's not so much spellings...

        Has it occurred to you that YOU are the foreigner, and are speaking a foreign language? Do you think a Frenchman thinks he has a distinct advantage when he swears at you in French deep in the wilds of Liverpool? Or do you find him to be a rude person, more intent on being abusive than in communicating?

        1. idiottaxpayerhere previously ishtiaq/theghostdeejay

          Re: It's not so much spellings...

          @Jake

          He's French so he is, of course, a twat.

        2. IGotOut Silver badge

          Re: It's not so much spellings...

          @Jake give up now.

          Calling someone a wanker can be abusive or a term of endearment. Then you have other divides, some parts of the UK calling someone a twat can just mean they are being a bit daft, other parts it is likely to get you punched.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: It's not so much spellings...

            Read what the OP posted. For some reason, he thought that being able to insult someone who didn't actually understand the insult was an "advantage".

            Advantage for what, exactly? Shirley the point of an insult is to be understood, otherwise why bother? Unless you are trying to be a prat, of course.

            1. Cederic Silver badge

              Re: It's not so much spellings...

              Shirley the point of an insult is to be understood

              Oh hell no. The best insults are the ones that leave the target bewildered, unsure if you've just complimented them or not, while everybody else listening knows exactly what was just said.

              It's a skill that I use regularly on Americans.

          2. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: It's not so much spellings...

            The endearing insult is pretty much universal. Not just some parts of anywhere.

      3. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
        Gimp

        Re: It's not so much spellings...

        Though if it's San Fran calling them a GIT is probably fine (though confusing to them).

        GIMP's probably still out though.

        GIMP icon because I do like to edit photos from time to time...

        1. Symon Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: It's not so much spellings...

          Telling them they're from 'San Fran' is probably the thing that'll get them worked up! Almost as bad as 'Frisco'. They live up in 'The City', doncha know!

          https://sf.curbed.com/2018/1/26/16936872/san-fran-frisco-survey-nickname-francisco

  4. TimMaher Bronze badge
    Paris Hilton

    Spelt...

    ... is an early form of flour used in baking and popular with artisanals today.

    Spelled isn’t.

    There; see. I fell for it.

    1. TheProf Silver badge
      Happy

      I fell for it.

      I think you mean you felled for it.

  5. Chris G Silver badge

    No hope

    I have not lived in the UK for a good twenty years, when I hear a lot of British tourists here I have no idea what they are saying.

    Particularly Londoners and I'm South London born and bred, language and speech are living things that change constantly along with the evolving culture.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: No hope

      Several years ago, as the Wife & I were wandering around the Plaza here in Sonoma with a couple of our Whippets, we ran across a family visiting from Yorkshire. Their kids actually went to the same highschool I got me Os and As from ... Small world. I had lived there some 40 years earlier, and yet I had no problems understanding them (and vice-versa). T'dawgs were right chuffed. The Wife, on the other hand ...

      1. sofaspud

        Re: No hope

        A couple years ago my wife and I went on vacation to Disneyworld in Florida, and ran into a family from "just outside London" (I remember that part, but can't remember the actual name of the place). Later we ran into another couple from Yorkshire, and chatted with them for a while, too.

        As an American... I'm pretty sure they were speaking different languages. I'm just sayin'.

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: No hope

          As an American... I'm pretty sure they were speaking different languages

          Then congratulations are in order, since you are clearly a rare example of a trilingual American...

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: No hope

      I heard some recordings of interviews of people who grew up in East London at the start of the 20th century.

      They sounded different to the ‘gor blimey’ accents of the mid century.

      And now the young people of London speak the MLE urban which is completely different again.

  6. lybad
    Devil

    Article quoted as "Amazon said: "With British English, you can deliver a robust and localized ['scuse me?] conversational experience that accurately understands the British accent. Amazon Lex also provides pre-defined slots that are localized [ahem] to capture information such as common names and cities found in England.""

    So British English - but common names and cities found in England. So that rules out Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland's cities and names then?

    1. Ken 16 Silver badge
      Trollface

      Correct

      Anyone saying they're British is from England or Northern Ireland, everyone else is Welsh or Scottish.

      1. Primus Secundus Tertius

        Re: Correct

        A very educated German said to me, "Yes, we know about Scotland and Ireland. But as far as we are concerned, you are all English".

        1. Danny 2 Silver badge

          Re: Correct

          I met a German football fan who claimed, "I've seen all the great Scottish football clubs. Glasgow Celtic, Glasgow Rangers, Glasgow Aberdeen."

          Presumably he thought Glasgow meant football club.

      2. Cederic Silver badge

        Re: Correct

        I'm British, and I was not born in England or Northern Ireland. Neither was my father.

      3. Spanners Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Correct

        I will answer to many names, including

        Orcadian

        Scottish

        British

        European and

        Human

        What I describe myself as depends on who I am talking to. If I am talking to someone from London or the rest of the remote South East, I use the first. Someone from the USA hears British because I like pointing out that we're not all SNP enthusiasts.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      So British English - but common names and cities found in England. So that rules out Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland's cities and names then?

      “Such as” doesn’t rule anything out.

    3. Cuddles Silver badge

      "So British English - but common names and cities found in England. So that rules out Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland's cities and names then?"

      Given how well most English people do at pronouncing anything Welsh or Gaelic, I'm actually prepared to cut Amazon some slack on that one.

      1. Cederic Silver badge

        Gaelic's not so bad but I'm buggered if I can make sense of anything in Welsh.

  7. Andy Non Silver badge
    Devil

    Alexa can speak double Dutch for all I care

    I'm never having one of those privacy invading gadgets in my house.

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Alexa can speak double Dutch for all I care

      My centipedes persactly!

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Alexa can speak double Dutch for all I care

      Well, yes. But that's not what the clickbait was about, now was it?

  8. Social Ambulator
    Thumb Down

    Organize!

    Except that -ize is the standard English spelling, and the myth that it’s American is a conspiracy fuelled by Microsoft Word’s spelling dictionary. Check the OED if you don’t believe me. The pocket Oxford dictionary I had at school in the 1950s (sic) doesn’t even have “organise”. And at least some technical book publishers in Britain still explicitly specify “-ize”, just as they did thirty years ago.

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Organize!

      I reckon you should organise a petition to protest about it!

    2. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Don't moan, organ eyes

      Why does the OED spell verbs such as organize and recognize in this way?

      The suffix -ize comes ultimately from the Greek verb stem -izein. In both English and French, many words with this ending have been adopted (usually via Latin), and many more have been invented by adding the suffix to existing words. In modern French the verb stem has become -iser, and this may have encouraged the use of -ise in English, especially in verbs that have reached English via French. The -ise spelling of verbs is now very common in British use, and Oxford dictionaries published in the UK generally show both forms where they are in use, but give -ize first as it reflects both the origin and the pronunciation more closely, while indicating that -ise is an allowable variant. Usage varies across the English-speaking world, so it is important to record both spellings where they exist. There are a number of verbs with only one accepted spelling – advise and capsize, for example. This is not just perverse: they have different etymologies. The important thing is that people should be consistent in the form they use in a given document.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0bezsMVU7c

      1. Flightmode

        Re: Don't moan, organ eyes

        Do I dare click a Youtube link containing "B0bezs" at work...?

        1. Danny 2 Silver badge

          Re: Don't moan, organ eyes

          It's a black American communist singing an anarchist anthem to striking Scottish miners, so no, it's probably not suitable for work. Just not for the reason you thought.

  9. Waspy

    American English is English

    Sure I read somewhere that, in a similar vein, Brits changed their accents after USA independence (mainly in the south), so the USA still broadly sounds more like 18th century Brits than modern Brits do. Northerners have deviated a little less, having decided not to insert a 'r' into 'bath', 'grass', 'lass' etc

    1. RM Myers Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: American English is English

      What is this American English of which we speak? Have you every been in south Louisiana, or spoken to a real Cajun? Or how about someone from Minnesota? Or someone from New York City? Or as far as that goes, almost any large inner city neighborhood. Within 2 blocks of my house, you can hear English with a Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, or Russian accent, and all from US citizens as well as non-citizens. As a written language, yes there is a reasonably consistent "American English". As a spoken language, not even close.

      1. Mark192 Bronze badge

        Re: American English is English

        He said 'broadly sounds'...

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: American English is English

          As in Liverpudlian "broadly sounds" like Mancunian.

          Note that Liverpool and Manchester are quite a bit closer together than (say) the Louisiana Bayou and The Bronx. The US is a rather large place, with immigrants from all over the planet.

      2. First Light Bronze badge

        Re: American English is English

        I partially agree with you. "It don't pay me no never mind" is one of my favorite quotes from the South. "God willing and the creek don't rise," from the West.

        However, idiomatic American has alot of sports references, eg coming out of left field (out of the blue), touching base, etc. The kind of things they teach in those hideous IELTS courses.

        Also television tends to enforce a certain standardisation of accent and language.

        If you grow up outside the US as a native English speaker, you will definitely find your vocabulary shifting and your vowels broadening as you attempt to be understood by Americans, especially NYers who are not shy of "correcting" your pronunciation.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: American English is English

          ""God willing and the creek don't rise," from the West."

          For values of "West" that includes Texas. Which ain't "the west", no matter how hard you squint at it. Shit, it's even on the wrong side of The Rockies!

          "especially NYers who are not shy of "correcting" your pronunciation."

          Which sets my teeth on edge, and makes me want to go all Joisey on their ass ... For you Brits, that's kind of like a Glaswegian trying to tell someone from Basingstoke how to speak.

          1. First Light Bronze badge

            Re: American English is English

            By the West I meant, I heard it in California.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: American English is English

              Where did the person in California hear it?

              Growing up here in the Bay Area, I first heard it in the movies. The first time I heard it "in the wild" was either in Red Lick, Texas or across the river in Ogden, Arkansas.

              1. Ken 16 Silver badge

                Re: American English is English

                Hollywood is in California, isn't it?

                1. jake Silver badge

                  Re: American English is English

                  No, Hollywood's in La-La-Land.

          2. Danny 2 Silver badge

            Re: American English is English

            @Jake

            "all Joisey on their ass"

            https://allpoetry.com/ygUDuh

          3. lybad

            Re: American English is English

            Had something similar at work in Glasgow. A Polish student told my Scottish friend from Blantyre that he couldn't speak English properly. Now Scotland's west coast might not be queen's English, but really?

            1. Richard Parkin

              Re: American English is English

              These days I mostly come across Poles/Germans/Letts/whatever in medical situations and it’s a pleasure to understand their clear English compared with the many native English speakers ;).

            2. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: American English is English

              It’s true, most non native English speakers speak textbook English, but native speakers use it in a more natural flexible sort of way.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: American English is English

                You say that... My Malaysian Chinese wife's accent goes from West Coast American to West Yorkshire accept via an South East Scottish twang before firmly arriving at Manglish (Malaysian English)

                It's comical to behold how it changes depending on who she's speaking to (and if she's imbibing at the time or not)

            3. Danny 2 Silver badge

              Re: American English is English

              @lybad

              I worked for Hamilton District Council and played works football. The highlight was I once played against a Lisbon Lion - we lost, but still. The lowlight was a stranger came up and punched me because I was wearing a French strip in Blantyre. Apparently too close to a Rangers strip.

          4. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C

            Re: American English is English

            "that's kind of like a Glaswegian trying to tell someone from Basingstoke how to speak."

            If anybody can set that meeting up then the popcorn's on me

          5. Claverhouse Silver badge

            Re: American English is English

            *For you Brits, that's kind of like a Glaswegian trying to tell someone from Basingstoke how to speak.

            .

            A Glaswegian would never be so rude.

      3. James Anderson Silver badge

        Re: American English is English

        I have been south of Louisiana -- need a boat though.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: American English is English

          Nowt wrong wi' that ... Good fishin'!

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: American English is English

      One person in England can sound very different from another, so they don’t broadly sound like much.

      If you read written text from pre-empire days, it seems that people understood the phonetic sound represented by the combinations of letters and put together a word however they wanted. There was no consistency or standards for spelling until the world trading with so many different tongues started to require an interface.

    3. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: American English is English

      The southern English accent comes from a fashion at the time to try to sound like how Prussians spoke English.

      Fortunately this fad didn't spread to Birmingham or beyond.

      1. Spanners Silver badge
        Go

        Re: American English is English

        I thought Beau Brummel had something to do with it. Or was he just the root of the RP speech impediment?

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: American English is English

        The southern English accents, there are many of them, don’t sound anything like the posh accent that people call southern English but is actually non-geographical. People up in the north have the posh accent, if they belong to that social thing.

        1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

          Re: American English is English

          I mean the pronunciation of the "r" in glass, for example. That came from copying the way Prussians mispronounced English.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: American English is English

            So much from Eastern Europe influenced south eastern accents from the end of the 19th century.

            Not many people heard posh prussians speaking in the East End, or out in the sticks before radio broadcasts.

            1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

              Re: American English is English

              I assume it was brought in by the upper class who mingled with Prussian aristocracy and was copied by the middle class and so on.

  10. Arachnoid
    Flame

    British English

    WTF exactly is that as there are so many dialect and variations within the language , is it Brummy, Mancunian, Liverpudlian ,Cockney or some other variant involving plums in ya gob?

    On the other hand American English is in a world of its own and should be corrected on sight, especially the spelling.

  11. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "Oxford University Press, favours -ize over -ise"

    For its house style maybe. However (at least until recently" the Oxford dictionary was specifically "descriptive, not prescriptive" of the language.

    The niggle -ise v. -ize based on ancient Greek is somewhat reminiscent of the "sin of the split infinitive". This is based on argument from Latin, in which you can't split an infinitive because there's no particle (the equivalent of the "to" in English). So in reality it's not "mustn't" at all, but "can't" if you force English to follow rules derived from Latin. But of course you don't have to if you're speaking or writing English.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: "Oxford University Press, favours -ize over -ise"

      Anybody who tries to force English to use Latin rules has never really studied English.

      1. Ken 16 Silver badge

        Re: "Oxford University Press, favours -ize over -ise"

        Greasy Moggy?

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: "Oxford University Press, favours -ize over -ise"

          Mine had that problem until I fitted modern seals ... The stock ones leak something awful.

  12. dak
    Headmaster

    Scottish Elevator?

    I don't recall ever being in an elevator here - I've used lifts often enough, though.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Scottish Elevator?

      So has Tom Cruise.

    2. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: Scottish Elevator?

      The song "Love in a lift' probably wouldn't have taken off though.

      Perhaps "Love on an escalator" would be the compromise. And a great music video.

      1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        Re: Scottish Elevator?

        A sight for all to see..

  13. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Trollface

    I suspect the programming effort was easier than it sounds; the lead programmer just shoved a stick up Alexa's bum and called it a day!

  14. Lorribot Bronze badge

    Bet it won't understand Geordie.

    Still, it is an ideal opportunity for Nicola to blame Boris for not taxing Amazon enough to do things properly or better still nationalise them and base them in Edinburgh *sigh, followed by bemused chuckle* and another reason why the Scots should be allowed to vote to leave the United Kingdon of England so she can do things properly.

  15. Sceptic Tank
    Headmaster

    en-ZA

    Ja, that's lekker man. Does that ouke do SA English?

    Even my English teacher used to say "Ag no, man!"

    1. gjmartin
      Facepalm

      Re: en-ZA

      No it doesn't, as trying to get Alexa to play 'Ag Pleez Deddy' is a frustrating experience!!

  16. J.G.Harston Silver badge
  17. Steve E

    Not just the original

    Whilst the residents of this green and pleasant land undoubtedly have a legitimate claim of prior art where the English language is concerned, we do find it a little galling that another nation has taken an antiquated version of it, tagged on a “US” prefix, and claimed as their own. Seriously the word ‘faucet’ fell out of favour in the civilised world shortly after Queen Elizabeth (the first that is) lost the colour in her cheeks. I guess we should be grateful you lot didn’t call it World-English, you know, in the same way you have your World Series with no international interest whatsoever. Oh crap, but you did, didn’t you... International-English Oh bugger!

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