Comparing the sounds of accents of English, past and present April McMahon Edinburgh is a world-leading centre for research on the history and current characteristics of accents of English and Scots, and this has been the case since the time of the first holder of the Forbes Chair, Angus McIntosh, who pioneered the application of thoroughly modern, computational methods to the study of historical texts and forms. In this lecture, I shall describe a set of novel quantitative and computational approaches to the classification of accents, which address the long-standing problem that linguists are very good at describing the ways in which varieties of a language differ from one another, but have until now had no way of showing how different they are – in other words, of measuring the differences between them. I shall describe the methods developed by my research group, and ask two key questions. First, what is the single key feature which is most important and salient in distinguishing present-day accents of English and Scots? Second, if we also include historical varieties in our analysis (and here the additional issue arises of how much we can know about the sounds of such varieties), which are the modern accents that sound most like Shakespeare’s English? The talk will be illustrated with recordings of present-day varieties of English from around the world.