Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Nappies, dummies, baby wipes and elocution lessons?

There's a nice, brief post on yesterday's Independent Voices pages by Ellen E.Jones about accents. In it, she responds to a news story about posh parents paying for private tutors to "correct" the speech patterns of their poor little darlings, who have picked up "incorrect" forms from their foreign nannies.

Jones makes some good points, which relate closely to what we've been looking at in recent A2 English Language lessons, about attitudes to different accents, and notes that the once-sanctified RP accent is now just as likely to provoke hostile reactions among many people as strong regional accents did among the polite classes in years gone by.

The real folly of elocution training is premised on the myth of the “non-accent”. This is a delusion that some people entertain which suggests that while Scouse/Cockney/French accents are cuddly/aggressive/sexy (delete according to your prejudice), one’s own RP English does not count as an accent all. I’ve got bad news: it does. And it’s equally likely to be the subject of snap judgements – just ask poor old, posh old Benedict Cumberbatch. So your child may emerge from elocution lessons talking proper, but they will still have an accent – the accent of someone whose parents were silly enough to pay for elocution lessons.

It's interesting that, for many people, RP is now a rather antiquated and stuffy accent to use, with estimates from linguists suggesting that as little as 3-4% of the UK population actually uses RP. Estuary English, regional varieties such as Geordie, Scouse and Brummie are still stigmatized by some, but increasingly seen as more honest and genuine.

What we don't know is if these regional varieties still attract - as Ellen Ryan put it - status or solidarity: do we like the apparent warmth and honesty of regional varieties but still only really trust the voice of power, the voice of the posh?

Today's Word of Mouth picked up the theme of accents in a really timely way, interviewing a number of people about their perceptions of their own accents and how others view them, as well as addressing the issue of accent reduction. You can listen (for a week, at least) to this episode here.

HT to Sally Flower for Daily Mail story

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