If you’ve taken the quiz above, you’re probably wondering about Stella and her very particular trip to the grocery store.
The strange script actually has a purpose. “We needed a paragraph that had almost all of the English sounds in it,” says Steven Weinberger, a professor of linguistics at George Mason University. He created the Speech Accent Archive, an ambitious project that has asked people everywhere to submit recordings of the “please call Stella” paragraph in order to classify how English is spoken around the world. Our quiz draws on 60 of the 1,964 recordings in the crowdsourced archive.
There is some disagreement about the breadth of the paragraph’s phonetic coverage, but in just 69 words, it manages to include the vast majority of all English vowel sounds and consonant clusters.
Having all of the speakers recite the same series of words makes it much easier to identify general trends in spoken English. “You can compare and contrast speakers, because they’re all doing the same thing,” says Weinberger. It is easier to tell, for example, that devoicing final consonants is one of the most common mistakes among all non-native English speakers. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a German speaker, Spanish speaker, or Japanese speaker,” he says. “You’re going to devoice your final consonants.”
The paragraph—”five thick slabs of blue cheese” and all—has clearly struck a chord with some people. Search YouTube for “please call Stella,” and you will find several videos of people awkwardly reciting the script. One video uses a recording of the paragraph as a saxophonic study on human voice. Another is called THE 2 WEEK “CALL STELLA” CHALLENGE.
You can browse all of the recordings in Weinberger’s archive on the project’s website. But Quartz readers are worldly, and we think you can identify a person’s nationality from just 69 words of English. The quiz above is your chance to prove us right.
Put on your headphones and click the button above to hear a recording by a mystery speaker. See if you can guess where the demands for Stella are coming from.
The Facebook sharing image for this piece is by Bobby Yip for Reuters.