"The British Library has acquired an archive of 821 digital audio recordings from shellac discs (original gramophones) held at the Berliner Lautarchiv at the Humboldt University in Berlin, including the oldest known collection of English dialect sound recordings in existence.
Two hundred of the recordings feature a variety of indigenous languages of British colonial troops held in captivity on German soil between 1916 and 1918. They include speeches, recitals of songs and folk tales and renditions of the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the speaker's native dialect. The diverse range of English dialects - over 140 recordings of soldiers from across the UK, including Aberdeen, Macclesfield, Bletchington and Wolverhampton - and languages, including Hindi, Punjabi, Pashto and Bengali, demonstrate the breadth of those who fought for Great Britain.
The recordings range in length from less than a minute to just over 4 minutes. Although the sound recordings do not provide much detail about what life was like in POW camps or during the war, the accompanying paperwork reveals some of the soldiers' life stories, detailing their age, regiment and aspects of their civilian life – information which enables researchers to trace descendants and find out more about their wartime service.
The original recordings were made between 1916 and 1938 by Wilhelm Doegen, a linguist who studied at Oxford in the early 1900s. During WWI, he was given the opportunity to record the dialects and phonetics of British POWs held on German soil, working with linguists and anthropologists based at German universities"