Saturday, 3 February 2007

Talking proper

When in the United States, the cuteness of my accent was sometimes remarked upon, always in a friendly manner. But that was some time ago; nowadays, when so many of the roles in big Hollywood movies go to British or antipodean actors (no longer playing mainly villains as they used to), perhaps the American ear has become more attuned to the way non-Americans speak; I doubt if the likes of Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson, Jude Law, Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, and Nicole Kidman sound in the least cute to anyone.

I don’t think I speak like any of them; if pressed, I suppose I would say that I use a sort of debased RP, though I arrived at this not naturally, from birth, but more by assiduous imitation of my betters in my early years, for it is foreign to my social background: the only thing I have in common with the traditional users of the Received Pronunciation is that I was born in south-eastern England.

The Anthropology Department of the University of Arizona has much of interest to say about RP, as does Wikipedia and The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language. All agree that it no longer has its former elitist connotation or is considered “standard” English, though it is still—more or less—the pronunciation taught to non-native speakers. For an authoritative note on Estuary English from the BBC look here (the BBC), and on the Queens English look here (the University of Arizona again!).

It is no longer true (if it ever was) that, as Henry Higgins said, “no Englishman can open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him”. (Scotsmen are another matter, but let’s not go into all that here.) But then Shaw was a silly old Irishman who greatly admired American English and preferred it to RP English; my guess is that this was not a matter of pronunciation but only because he was nutty about simplified spelling, and was impressed by the Americans’ half-hearted attempt at it with labor, dialog, traveler and so on.

1 comment:

Grumio said...

Of course, Shaw made his feelings for Higgins clear by having him state that:

"English is the language of Shakespeare, Milton and THE BIBLE".

Top post, Tony.