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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: January ::
Re: Accents English
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0118  Monday, 21 January 2002

[1]     From:   Mary Jane Miller <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Jan 2002 11:31:23 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0106 Re: Accents English

[2]     From:   Jonathan Hope <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Jan 2002 17:24:56 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0106 Re: Accents English

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Jan 2002 12:29:36 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0106 Re: Accents English


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mary Jane Miller <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Jan 2002 11:31:23 -0500
Subject: 13.0106 Re: Accents English
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0106 Re: Accents English

Re Auntie  or the Beeb's responsibility for standardised accents. In the
late 60's I was doing research on BBC radio drama with the BBC's full
cooperation. They included me in a 30 day course on radio production
where producers in training were able to talk to the brass about many
things. I in my Canadian colonial accent asked why outside of dramas by
Pinter, Owen, Stoppard et al I didn't hear any regional accents on the
air - except for the gardening show. I was told that whenever the BBC
tried to use the rich variety of accents available they received stacks
of letters protesting that the listener could not understand what was
being said. Since I was taking the degree from Birmingham - though based
in London where the BBC HQ is - that struck me as strange indeed. I had
perforce learned to understand Brummagem within days of my arrival.

The other thing about having a standard Canadian accent in Britain ( the
majority of Canadians speak in the same accents as our broadcasters - we
have few regional accents) which is still true  is that no one can place
you in terms of class, geography, education etc.  Canadians will not
pick up subtle cues of accents in British theatre, films and television.

This means that in radio drama or in Shakespeare where the words are the
work, information can be added or stripped away using local regional or
national speech patterns. American and British directors have a
wonderful resource in terms of varied accents we in Canada do not have.

Mary Jane

PS: It was argued in an early popular culture seminar at Birmingham by a
guest lecturer who had looked at the question that decades of BBC
standard speech had not had any measurable impact on regional or local
speech at all.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jonathan Hope
 <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Jan 2002 17:24:56 +0100
Subject: 13.0106 Re: Accents English
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0106 Re: Accents English

As ever, those interested in early modern accents should begin with
chapter 7 of Charles Barber's *Early Modern English* (2nd ed. 1997,
Edinburgh UP and Columbia) which, like all of his stuff, is lucid and
newcomer-friendly.

As for present-day accents and their supposed qualities ('clarity',
'harshness', 'music' etc), numerous linguistic experiments have shown
that attitudes to accents are wholly learned behaviour - they have
nothing to do with the phonetic reality of the accents.  It is not true,
for example, that RP is inherently clearer or more easily understood
than any other accent of English - rather its use by radio announcers
meant that more people were exposed to it.

There is a very nice counter-example to this canard in an early volume
of the poet James Kirkup's autobiography (I think *The Only Child*) - he
grew up in the north-east of England, and records the day a new teacher
arrived in his school speaking RP.  No one could understand her.

Jonathan Hope
Strathclyde University, Glasgow

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Jan 2002 12:29:36 -0500
Subject: 13.0106 Re: Accents English
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0106 Re: Accents English

Gabe Egan makes a lot of sense when he says,

> Of course, one might say (and he probably has said) "I'm proud of my
> accent" when really meaning "I'm not ashamed of it", and we can all
> allow that slight imprecision. Likewise, it would be absurd to really
> mean "I'm proud to be a woman" or "I'm proud to be a man" as though one
> had striven to achieve this genetic state.

But logic seldom correlates exactly with human behaviour.  "Gay pride"
and "black pride" activists and feminists, for example are not likely to
acknowledge that they are only saying that they are not ashamed of being
gay, black or female (or some combination).  Instead of merely denying
the bigoted slurs which have victimized them, they insist that they
would not want to be straight, white or male, that it is better to be
what they are -- that gays, blacks and women are in fact superior to
others.  And they illustrate their theses with instances, real or
stereotyped, such as the supposed superior aesthetic taste of gay men.
Black Studies programs justify their existence by finding and
exaggerating cultural contributions of persons of African heritage or
others who might be said to be such.  (Try telling a Black Studies
graduate that Cleopatra was Greek and see what reaction you get. --
Maybe Shakespeare is partly to blame for this.)

This form of chauvinism, if expressed in a comparable way by
heterosexuals, whites and men is called homophobia, racism and sexism.

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