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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: May ::
Re: Accents (Received Pronunciation)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1206  Wednesday, 1 May 2002

[1]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 Apr 2002 20:34:48 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1191 Re: Accents

[2]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 Apr 2002 23:27:32 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 13.1191 Re: Accents

[3]     From:   Jonathan Hope <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 01 May 2002 12:00:50 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1191 Re: Accents

[4]     From:   Jonathan Hope <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 01 May 2002 15:04:27 +0100
        Subj:   Accents, again


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 Apr 2002 20:34:48 +0100
Subject: 13.1191 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1191 Re: Accents

Larry Weiss types:

> I think it is a capital error to treat RP as if it were an accent.  It
> is the un-accent.

I was tempted to quote the entirety of Fowler3 (Burchfield, _New
Fowler's MEU_ (Oxford, 1998 -- the Revised 3rd edition) on "received
pronunciation", but as it covers two full columns across a page [even
before we get to the cross-referred three columns on "pronunciation"],
it might be just possible that this would violate copyright
restrictions.

So the following should be read against the background of Fowler3, etc.,
and treated with caution, as I find myself involved in a double-quarrel
with both Larry and Burchfield.

The origins of RP lie not in the spoken word but in the written word.
As long as the written word existed in MS, the Regional Problem didn't
loom large.

Caxton (printing {sic} in London in the late fifteenth century)
encountered The Egg Problem.

He solved this somewhat brutally (if usefully) by saying that "egg"
should be printed in the way it was spoken in London, and Oxford and
Cambridge [universities].

In the course of time, a social, non-regional "standard" evolved based
on the English Public School System and Oxbridge.

When John Reith (a Scotsman, be it noted) invented the BBC, Received
Pronunciation (a watered-down version of the above) began to hold
stage-centre.

So ...

[I proffer this reluctantly, and more as an incitement to wit -- I'm
sure there are others on the list who are more knowledgeable about this
than I.  But for what it's worth ...]

> An accent identifies the speaker as coming from a particular region,
> having a particular ethnicity or belonging to a particular social
> class.

Larry, this clumps smack up against Britain (or perhaps more
specifically England) as one of the few countries with a class rather
than a regional standard.  RP may be a class rather than a regional
accent, but it's still an accent.

> the overstressed Rs in Scottish brogue,

Overstressed in comparison to what?  The wording of this implies a
"right" pronunciation, against which the Scottish rolled "r" 'deviates'.

As someone who trailed a Kalshnikov in The Glasgow Language Wars of the
sixties, this ... grates.

[Two ways to tell -- NO ONE from then and there uses the term "dialect",
and no transcription employs an apostrophe.  Apostrophes imply
inferiority.  You can +still+ be stopped at the frontier on those two
hard-wired scars.]

> Cockney glottal stops

Don't you mean +Glasgow+ glottal stops?  The Henry Higgins Mockney Rule
reads a Dropped Unaspirated "h", not 'Pa/erson, sir, with two "t's" .'

[Mind you, I speak yet once more as one of the Undeserving Poor.]

> RP requires the speaker to unlearn these
> patterns.  It was devised to assist comprehension of spoken English by
> all hearers regardless of their own accents.

Indeed.  Back to Caxton.  Though I'd be tempted to quarrel with the term
"unlearn".

> As such, it emphasizes the
> precise pronunciation of each letter and syllable exactly according to
> the phonetic values they are given in standard dictionaries.  That is
> the opposite of an accent.

Tendentious, Larry, +deeply+ tendentious.

> Having said that, it does not follow that it should be used in
> performance. Or that it should not be.

*Concur* [+++]

Robin Hamilton.

[+++ Larry: have you ever read the work of the SF author Charles L.
Harness?  K, he has his hero(es) working in physical rather than
intellectual copyright law, but from the perspective of us dumb_bunnies,
there ain't so much difference.

<g>

R2.]

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 Apr 2002 23:27:32 +0100
Subject: Re: Accents
Comment:        SHK 13.1191 Re: Accents

Maybe RP has been replaced in UK by BBC English, but thereby hangs a
tale: in the 2nd World War, the BBC would not allow a famous Yorkshire
broadcaster to reads the national news because his accent was deemed
unworthy of Reithian purity.

I imagine that Barry Rutter would have had that kind of claustrophobic
and patronising attitude by the linguistic gestapo in mind when forming
'Northern Broadsides' - so that Shakespeare might be exposed to the more
bracing air of regionality.

What is so encouraging about the venture is that the shows are evaluated
as vibrant valid ways of performing rather than as linguistic
curiosities for the chattering classes to be witty about.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jonathan Hope <
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Date:           Wednesday, 01 May 2002 12:00:50 +0100
Subject: 13.1191 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1191 Re: Accents

There's a fair amount of misinformation being spread on this thread at
the moment.  A good place to start with RP is David Crystal's *Cambridge
Encyclopedia of the English Language* (1995) page 365.

Recent postings have claimed some strange things.

As far as I know, there is no linguistic evidence for the much touted
'levelling' effect of TV and radio on accents.  The work I'm aware of
suggests two things:

1. presenters are more likely to shift their accent according to their
perceived audience than the other way round

2. what TV and radio do is make people able to *understand* unfamiliar
accents - so British English speakers are generally much better at
understanding American English accents than vice versa because they hear
so much American English.  This doesn't mean that the British will all
be speaking with American accents in 20 years' time.  I don't hear much
influence from American accents on the streets of Glasgow.

It has also been claimed that RP somehow lacks phonetic features, and
that to learn it you need to remove them from your current accent
(suggesting, incorrectly, that no one is a native speaker of RP).  RP,
like any other accent, is a collection of particular phonetic features.
It has glottal stops, and something linguists call intrusive /r/, as
well as a particular set of vowel sounds which make it a distinctive
accent of English (there's an account of the phonetic features of  RP in
Arthur Hughes and Peter Trudgill (3rd ed, 1996) *English Accents and
Dialects* (Arnold).

It has also been claimed that RP was 'devised' - I'm not aware of any
serious linguistic work that supports this.  Crystal's piece is good on
the possible origins of RP, which probably go back to the centralised
court of the 1500s - Puttenham seems to be aware of an emerging prestige
accent.

Finally, a recent posting stated that:

>[RP] emphasizes the precise pronunciation of each letter and syllable
>exactly according to the phonetic values they are given in standard
>dictionaries.  That is the opposite of an accent.

There are various things wrong with this:

1. letters can't be pronounced - they're a feature of the written
language

2. even if the above were not true, RP speakers *don't* attempt to give
a phonetic realisation to every letter (otherwise they'd sound like
Holofernes with his d-e-b-t and they'd get pterodactyl wrong, and they'd
choke on xylophone, and they'd distinguish knight from night)

3. it's standard dictionaries that use RP as their model, not the other
way round (!)

4. there's no such thing as the opposite of an accent - I suppose you
could have the absence of accent, but that would be silence

Jonathan Hope
Strathclyde University, Glasgow

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jonathan Hope <
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Date:           Wednesday, 01 May 2002 15:04:27 +0100
Subject:        Accents, again

Not unrelated to musings about RP, you can read Tom Leonard's poem 'Six
o'clock news', and hear him speak it (if your computer is swanky enough)
at the following site

http://www.tomleonard.co.uk/sixoclock.htm

Jonathan Hope
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

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