Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ich habe keinen trophies

A silly story in The Daily Star this week (a paper I don't read, honestly) tells how little-known and recently unsuccessful football manager, Alex Ferguson, has had to return his German-made car because its voice recognition software can't recognise his thick Glaswegian accent. It's amusing to imagine the kind of abuse levelled at the unfortunate car from this notoriously foul-mouthed fellow, but it does raise a (sort of) serious point about language: who decides what's a "normal" accent for a car to understand and how is a German going to accurately programme the software for a car sold in England to a Scot?

In fact, who decides - historically speaking - what the standard variety of English is going to be? When studying Language Change in unit 5 of the A level course, you can see that the prestige varieties of English have usually been associated with the South East of the country (the triangle made up of Oxford, Cambridge and London is often highlighted in text books) and the most powerful groups in society. Generally speaking, the most powerful people in society get to choose which variety (in terms of dialect and accent) is the standard. But it's not always that simple. As the BBC Routes of English series found, young people are now much less likely to use an overtly prestigious form such as RP (Received Pronunciation), but more covertly prestigious forms such as Estuary English or Black Vernacular English.

So perhaps if Ferguson had shouted a few "Rarsclats" and "Y'gonna get merked"s at the car instead of his usual "Yous lot are a bunch of f**king idiots" then he might have had some joy. Or maybe not...

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties and Change

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