Sunday, November 07, 2004

Oi, talk proper, wiwl ya?

Cor, keeping up with all the interesting language stories in the media at the moment is virtually a full time job! But first up is news that the Grand Dames of British Acting are frightfully upset about the parlous state of the nation's youth - specifically, the inability of young actors to speak Received Pronunciation. It's such an old gripe, based on a view that the English language is rapidly going to hell in a handcart, that I'm afraid I can't take it terribly seriously.

Well, that's one reason - the other is the fact that I can't speak RP either, and struggle a bit to understand speakers who use its most marked forms. Dining with a particular don at Oxford the other summer, I was alternately lifting my jaw back off the floor from sheer surprise that anybody alive today still spoke like that, and having to run a translation programme inside my head to replace all his short "e" sounds with the "a" sounds I use. Being a Mockney I say "exaaaams" with my mouth wide open for all the world to see my fillings and tonsils, whereas he was saying "exems" barely moving his lips. Fascinating to watch - I just hope I didn't stare too much...

So, if your average English language teacher struggles with it, it's hard not to have sympathy for the young drama students being lambasted by the Grand Dames. Their argument is that without RP, young actors will NEVER be able to play the great classical roles. Well, that's self-evidently a load of old poppycock, isn't it?!! Some of the best productions of Shakespeare's plays that I've seen have been ones where the actors have used their accents to accentuate the power dynamics, rather than squashing them all into some Ye Olde Englande vision of reality that only the tourists in Stratford-upon-Avon buy into. Large yawn. Leonardo di Caprio, with his American accent, made Romeo a major object of schoolgirl desire - can hardly see him having the same effect in RP, can you?...

Check it out. You have to register to read The Telegraph online, but it's free...

Estuary English 'is destroying British drama'

Received Pronunciation


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