Those peculiar Harvard Sentences, developed in a basement

Sarah Zhang writes, in Gizmodo, about how “The ‘Harvard Sentences’ Secretly Shaped the Development of Audio Tech“:

During World War II, the boiler room under Harvard’s Memorial Hall was turned into a secretive wartime research lab. Here, volunteers were subjected to hours of noise as scientists tested military communications systems. Out of this came the Harvard sentences, a set of standardized phrases still widely used to test everything from cellphones to VoIP.

Few know about the sentences themselves other than speech scientists and audio engineers, but the technologies they’ve helped build are everywhere. Verizon’s real-life “Can you hear me now?” guy uses them. Speech-to-text software engineers use them. Speech scientists studying cochlear implants say them out loud all the time. “These materials have been the gold standard,” says David Pisoni, director of the Speech Research Laboratory at Indiana University.

Here are some of the Harvard Sentences:

  • The birch canoe slid on the smooth planks.
  • Glue the sheet to the dark blue background.
  • It’s easy to tell the depth of a well.
  • These days a chicken leg is a rare dish.
  • Rice is often served in round bowls.
  • The juice of lemons makes fine punch.
  • The box was thrown beside the parked truck.
  • The hogs were fed chopped corn and garbage.
  • Four hours of steady work faced us.
  • Large size in stockings is hard to sell.

Memorial Hall, by the way, is the building in which the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony happens every year.