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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: January ::
Accents English
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0056  Monday, 14 January 2002

From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Sunday, 13 Jan 2002 14:48:46 -0000
Subject:        Accents English

Graham Hall writes,

(From: Arthur Lindley) [Or do Brits themselves have difficulty
understanding the more extreme
forms of non-Queen's English? ]

"Doubtless some do, but that has nothing to do with Dad's Army where
pronunciation is pretty much normal (but not RP, which is the case in
many WW2 films). The sub-titles are a standard service that can be
chosen by the viewer. It's quite useful for the hard-of-hearing. Very
useful for pop lyrics I find. Fantastic fun when they do it live!"

Two points of contention here.  Professor John Honey in his book "Does
Accent Matter?" defines the various mainly English accents in terms of
the variation from what is perceived to be the standard accent of RP.
The Queen for instance speaks an over extended RP whilst Diana spoke in
a Chelsea accent derived from the old military way of speaking.  RP was
invented by Lord Reith, the then Governor of the BBC, in the late 1950's
so as to "offend the least number of people" and to rid the BBC of its
"Royal sounding" newsreaders and presenters.  Reith himself was a Scot
with a pronounced Scottish accent.  However, Professor Honey estimates
that the number of people in the UK today speaking genuine RP is around
3%.  Hardly statistically "normal".  If we attach that figure to the one
and a half billion English speakers in the world today it becomes
insignificant.  I personally know only two people with an RP accent and
both were BBC announcers.  My own accent is a watered down southern
country tone - most definitely not RP - I'm proud to say.

Therefore the cast of "Dad's Army" do not speak "normally", as Graham
Hall opines.  The RP accent did not exist in WWII so the show is quite
authentic with a wide variety of accents.  Arthur Lowe and John Le
Mesurier have extended RP accents, Ian Lavender and Bill Pertwee have
London accents and Hamish Roughhead is most definitely Scots.

Again Professor Honey quotes from a survey that reveals the popular
prejudices when English accents are heard.  Holders of urban accents are
seen as people with a sense of humour, short in stature, badly dressed,
not educated - even bodily unclean.  RP speakers are imagined as
humourless, tall, educated, clean, trustworthy and well dressed.
"Non-England" accents fare little better.  Scots become heavy drinkers
but funny, Irish as stupid but friendly and American as naive, gullible
but hospitable.  All very similar to racial prejudice.

If there was an "average" English accent in the world today it would
certainly be mid-American in terms of number.  So why should Shakespeare
productions in England always be heard in the BBC inspired RP accent?
Most certainly those abundantly intelligent lines have to align
themselves with the popular prejudices outlined above, therefore the
safe default is RP. My great ambition is to stage a Shakespeare play
using northern English accents.  I think it would be very powerful, rich
and far more authentic than the RP drone.

SAM SMALL

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