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Why Did Stephen Hawking Sound American?

Many American and British actors learn to take on the accent of their counterparts across the pond, but it might seem odd when a scientist does it. But that's what happened with famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who was born in Oxford, England. Hawking, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis when he was only 22, lost the power of speech in 1985 after contracting pneumonia. The ensuing tracheotomy took away Hawking's ability to speak, so he started using a computerized system that allowed him to spell out words that were then spoken by a synthesized voice. Since the voice was created at MIT, it naturally employed an American accent. In fact, the voice was based on that of Wisconsin-born researcher Dennis Klatt, the computer speech synthesis pioneer who developed the DECtalk speech synthesizer. So despite being British, Hawking spent the rest of his life speaking like an American. He even came to like it, arguing that it had become his trademark. When offered a change in 1988, Hawking declined, explaining that he had grown accustomed to the iconic voice.

A brief history of Stephen Hawking:

  • Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, on the 300th anniversary of the death of another giant in science, Galileo.
  • Even though Hawking was only an average student in his early school days, he earned the nickname "Einstein."
  • Hawking's book, A Brief History of Time, spent 237 weeks on The Sunday Times bestseller list.
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