Saturday 28 January 2012

The Only Way?

One of the less often heard but always pleasing joys of being English is listening to an American ‘doing’ an English accent - cue much hilarity over the never-gets-old “Murry Parpns” debacle. Dear old Dick Van Dyke; a true icon of Anglo-American linguistics.

More recently there have been some interesting and far more successful trans-Atlantic crossings, but you mean to tell me there wasn’t a single American actor who could have played House? Or a Brit who could have turned his hand to Jack Sparrow? Wow, really?

But, hey, I’m not knocking the ‘septic tanks’ today. To our ear the whole of the USA only has about four accents anyway – East, West, South and middle, but, tuned in as we are to the nuances of English dialect you only have to move a mile and there’s a whole different way of speaking to deal with.

Having said that, the ‘yoof’ of this country is doing its damnedest to emulate just one and in the interest of egalité has opted for one of the least literate and expressive versions of Shamaican. It doesn’t really matter; nobody is going to employ them anyway and they have nothing worthwhile to say, so who cares?

Once upon a time there was a notion of correct English speech known as Received Pronunciation. If you wanted to be taken seriously, RP was the only game in town. It gave us an international identity as well as a certain gravitas. Then along came the bloody sixties. Ta very much, Tommy Steele. All of a sudden, Cock-er-ney and its variations exploded in our ears and the rot set in. Before long the BBC was copying the commercial meeja and a regional accent became a prerequisite for any announcer.

But all accents carry baggage, some more than others. Hear a Scouser and it’s your own baggage you’ll be keeping a closer eye on. Encounter a Brummie and you involuntarily speak more slowly, avoiding long words. A Geordie twang makes you nod your head vigorously, ‘as if’ you understand, while a greeting in Mancunian immediately triggers a response to defend yourself.

Recently, one particular accent has gained more prominence and garnered greater prejudice than most, notably for the demonstrable horrors that are perpetrated by its practitioners. I don’t believe I could bear to watch a single episode (is that the right word? What is it, exactly? A documentary? A soap-opera?) and yet wherever I look I can’t escape the international diplomacy car crash that is TOWIE. Please tell me that isn't how we are perceived as a nation today? Oh.

So it’s a relief to hear that an Essex school is shoring up the breach and attempting a bit of pre-emptive damage control: Primary school elocution lessons.

I hope it succeeds. Can you imagine what it would be like if by simply doing nothing, Essex became the new RP? If you can’t see what an issue that would be, just imagine national treasure, dear old Jeremy Clarkson, announcing that the new Bugatti Veyron was the fastest production car… “In ve wewd”!

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