Friday 3 April 2015

Choose Your Words Carefully 4

Steph McGovern

It turns out that what's fine for Alan Titchmarsh, just doesn't go for women in academia. We can't be taken seriously and have working class regional accents at the same time... It turns out that very few people like to think they have a discernible accent and instead believe they speak in a neutral voice, one that doesn't betray the region in which they grew up, or, more to point, the socio-economic status of the region in which they grew up. Because that's what it's really all about, isn't it? I frequently hear friends, students, colleagues, teachers and parents talk about 'rough' or 'common' accents. Or correcting school kids out of their accents because it sounds 'ignorant' and it's not 'proper' English. (A university lecturer in the Daily Telegraph explains how her regional accent draws ridicule in academia, Jan 2015 )

Most users of English habitually distinguish between two types of people whose linguistic habits they deplore... Berks are careless, crass, gross and [in] what anybody would agree is a lower class than one’s own. They speak in a slipshod way with dropped Hs, intruded glottal stops and many mistakes of grammar. Left to them the English language would die of impurity, like late Latin. W*nkers are prissy, fussy, priggish, prim and of what they would probably misrepresent as a higher social class than one’s own. They speak in an over-precise way with much pedantic insistence on letters not generally sounded, especially Hs. Left to them the language would die of purity, like medieval Latin. (Kingsley Amis, The King’s English)

Mum says I sound a bit too common.
(F Stavrakopoulou ‏@ProfFrancesca of her appearance on The Infinite Monkey Cage.)

Georgette Heyer, writing in the 30s, mentions a character whose voice “cast into shocking relief the light, metallic tones of her contemporaries, with their clipped vowels, and the oddly common inflections they so carefully cultivated”.

French was for the academic kids, Spanish for those who were seen as fodder for the vocational training stream. Probably a reflection of the rather fixed views as to where each set would holiday, when older. (GC I had some posh friends who wanted their kids taught French at two "for skiing". They learned to ski at two, too. Somehow we lost touch.)

Hearing me speak, someone once asked me why I wasn't living in Fulham with a barrister. (What could I have said? “Why aren’t you living in Stepney with a woman you call ‘me old Dutch’?”)

Singer Davey Jones (from Manchester) adopted a weird kind of Mockney when he became an “English” star in the States. Judy Carne had the same voice, and Geraldine Chaplin adopted it for Nashville. Nobody ever talked like that.

In the 50s, 60s and 70s, across most of the class spectrum, people communicated in a kind of knee-jerk sarcasm. Which made being a na├»ve 16-year-old really difficult. I think it's gone out – people are much politer and friendlier now, despite Weybridges complaining that nobody says “Please” or “Thankyou” any more and that manners are a thing of the past. Perhaps they miss “inferiors” kowtowing and calling them “sir” and “madam”.

Upwards and Weybridges have conniption fits over “can I get”. “It’s ‘may I have’,” they rave. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say “may I have”. It’s just something middle-class people invented to annoy their children. If you hover at a coffee-shop counter you’ll hear most people saying “could I have”.

Eileen pronounces Protestant as “Prodestant”, and says “within” for “in”. Upwards insist that antiques have PAT-ina not pa-TEE-na, but pa-TEE-na is winning. Upwards and Stow-Crats used to insist on saying patent with a short A. Everybody says “paytent” now, as in “patently obvious”, which is a favourite phrase of theirs. But it is fearfully infra dig to say “lather” to rhyme with father rather than gather.

Stow Crats have their own pronunciations, not just of stately homes (Althrop for Althorp, Annick for Alnwick), but of names like Walter Raleigh (Rawley not Rahly), Halley’s comet (Hawley or Haley). Are they the ones who insist on Katherine Hebburn and Barbara Stannick? And watch out for Cholmondeley and Marjoribanks and Featherstonehaugh (Chumley, Marchbanks and Fawston).

Samantha Upward is trying very hard to cure herself of calling the living room or sitting room the “drawing room”, as her parents did. It was the “withdrawing room”, whither the ladies withdrew after dinner.

More here, and links to the rest.

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