Fixing and reproducing spoken language were major concerns of the inventors of the phonograph in the late 1870s. This is reflected in the expression “talking machine”, which was used to characterise the phonograph into the 1930s.

An article in the Journal of the Exposition universelle de 1889 (Paris) reported that ”Mr. Edison, regretting that we could not get an idea of the voice and intonations of our famous men, speakers, scholars and musicians, had the idea of keeping phonograms that would have collected their speech or their songs for future generations“ (Cited by J.Perriault, in Mémoires de l’ombre et du son : une archéologie de l’audio-visuel, Flammarion, 1981, p. 184).

Oral memories give evidence of past and present societies. They relate national events, historic speeches by national figures, tales, sayings, jokes and traditional stories as well as interviews with people about daily life from times gone by, and their life experiences. Mainly recorded in situ, these recordings are the result of meetings between recordists and the people who have handed down their knowledge and experiences from the time of the creation of the first cylinders (ca. 1880) to now.

Example of recording:


Languages and dialects define our culture, values and collective memory; in short, they define our identity. Linguistic diversity and multilingualism are celebrated features of life in Europe. The European Union has 24 official and working languages as well as many regional and minority languages, while more than 7,000 languages are now spoken worldwide. Recordings of extinct languages, accents and dialects are particularly important for ethnographers and for preserving our sound heritage in general.

Example of recording:


Spoken word performances cover poetry readings, theatrical productions, public speeches, and literature readings.

Example of recording:


Find below our latest blogposts about spoken word recordings:

Outcomes of three years of sounds and fun!

February 9th, 2017|0 Comments

Europe’s sound heritage at your fingertips […]

December 21 – The Feast Day of St Thomas

December 21st, 2016|0 Comments

The Feast Day of St Thomas the Apostle was established in the 12th century and was celebrated on 21 December up until 1969. The feast day was then changed to 3 July so that it would no longer coincide with the days of Advent. Even so, it is still celebrated by some churches on the original date. […]

December 15 – Christmas Message of an American President from Outer Space

December 15th, 2016|0 Comments

On December 18th 1958, the first communications satellite was launched by NASA. It carried a tape recorder with a prerecorded christmas message from US president Dwight D. Eisenhower. […]

December 13 – The Story of the Snowman, Linguistic Research Data at The Language Archive

December 13th, 2016|0 Comments

From our previous articles on this blog, you know that the Language Archive at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is home to a large amount of data on endangered languages that has been collected by MPI researchers, within the DoBeS programme and by quite a number of researchers not directly affiliated with the MPI. They just thought this was a good place to store their data. […]

December 5 – Uncovering Ethnomusicology on Europeana Music Collections

December 5th, 2016|0 Comments

The Music Collections of this month is focused on anthropology and its links with sounds and music studies, in France and in the world. […]

December 2 – Unlocking Sound Collections: the videos!

December 2nd, 2016|0 Comments

As your second daily treat of this Advent Calendar, Europeana Sounds is sharing with you the videos of its 2nd International Conference, which took place in Vilnius on 4 November 2016. […]

Scottish Marriage Customs

November 24th, 2016|0 Comments

Marriage customs in Scotland are numerous and diverse. In this blog post we will look at just a handful of these customs, with a focus on a few which have evolved over centuries and one or two which are no longer practised. […]

Access easily sounds from the Europeana Sounds Collections!!

November 16th, 2016|0 Comments

By navigating through the above feature, you now have an easy and single access point to the material the Europeana Sounds consortium shared with you during the last two years and a half! Whether you are interested in non-Western classical music, spoken word performance recordings or sound effect recordings, come [...]

Enriching Wikipedia with recordings from the Ruben collection

November 10th, 2016|0 Comments

Report from a successful edit-a-thon October 26, 2016. About 25 participants eagerly awaited the beginning of the edit-a-thon at Statsbiblioteket. Most of the participants were musicology students; furthermore, a couple of history students and staff members from Statsbiblioteket were also present. They knew they were going to spend the day [...]

Exploring the Baure of Bolivian Amazonia and their language

October 28th, 2016|1 Comment

The Language Archive is hosting data from a large number of linguistic documentation projects. Today we will tell you about one them, the Baure documentation project which is part of the large-scale project DoBeS (Dokumentation Bedrohter Sprachen, Documentation of Endangered Languages) funded by the German Volkswagen Foundation. […]