Sunday, November 29, 2009

"You have to live in Manchester, if you want to speak proper English."

Being a bit of a mongrel myself when it comes to English pronunciation, the following Daily Herald essay from 1926 caught my eye.

English as She Is Not Spoke

By R. B. Suthers

What language I speak I do not know. My cousin Lucy is a Lancashire lass, and, when she was staying with us, I said in her hearing that the heat was like a Turkish bath.

Turning to my wife, Lucy observed scornfully, “Why don’t you teach your ‘oosband to speak English? B-a-t-h spells bath, not barth. Eh, I shall be glad to get home, and hear a bit of proper talk. It’s like being in a foreign country. ‘Benk, benk, benk,’ and ‘Parss along there,’ and these ‘Broadcarsters,’ they give me the ‘oomp with their ‘Weather fawcarsst’ and their ‘glarss is falling in the Azores.’ They want boomping, all of them. Why, one of them called Lytham Lie-tham, the other night. He’s a bright lad, I don’t think! How do they get their jobs? I expect it’s influence. If I couldn’t pronounce better than that, I’d eat my ‘at.”

Hat, my dear,” I said, gently.

“Well, I said ‘at, didn’t I?” Lucy asked serenely. “What do you call ‘ats?’ You can’t play about with ‘at like you do with book and cook anyhow. B-double-O is boo, isn’t it? And a booking office is a booking office, not a bucking office. It’s done you no good coming to London. You have to live in Manchester, if you want to speak proper English.”

“Correct” English

Knowing from bitter experience that if I pursued the subject I should only succeed in evoking still more outspoken truths about my degeneration in this and many other respects, I changed it. For cousin Lucy, like most Manchester people, believes in calling a spade a spade. Nay, they are so determined to let you have the naked truth that they insist on calling dirt muck....

It was news to me that I pronounced bath barth. I’m sure I don’t say “parth” or “broadcarst,” but I plead guilty to “bucking-office” and “cuk”. This is the result of transmigration, and it refutes the notion held by some people that the dialect and accent you acquire as a child will stick to you through life. Indeed, I have known children, transplanted from London to Yorkshire, entirely lose the Cockney accent and method of pronunciation and vice versa. I suppose I am a mongrel in language. But what is correct English?

I read recently that, in these days, our mother tongue is subject to shocking mutilations. It is. I was roused the other morning by a loud voice beneath my bedroom window. A man laying a cable was talking to his mate. I ought to have heard every word, but most of his remarks were an unintelligible noise. I listened to children the other day, and they were little clearer. They clipped and slurred and disembowelled words in a ghastly way. Couldn’t was pronounced “cou’n’,” butter was transformed into “bu’er,” and mother into “m’er.”These mutilations are not the monopoly of the less educated. I have listened to some pretty bad samples from 2LO, and I expect we are all, more or less, guilty of these cruelties. How many of us drop G’s and aitches, say “fr’m,” “how ‘r you?” and “what’s th’ time?” and commit a hundred similar atrocities.

A Drastic Rule

Whether there is more mutilation now than there was a generation ago is a moot point. Who is to judge? I think, myself, that pronunciation—correct pronunciation—is more widespread Perhaps we are more sensitive to errors. The advent of Broadcasting has certainly aroused interest in the question, and incidentally, added to people’s opportunities of ticking each other off. For what is correct pronunciation?

Well, we have now got a Committee of Experts to tell us—through the B.B.C. The members include the Poet Laureate, Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, and George Bernard Shaw. The first work of this committee has been to lay down the pronunciation of idyll, gala, precedence, sonorous, Boulogne, Marseilles, Rheims, garage, Towcester, charabanc, and chauffeur.

I observe that gala is to be pronounced “gahla.” I have no objection, but I cannot imagine Cousin Lucy accepting this ruling. A gala for her is a “gayla,” and no poet or playwright, especially one who takes a “barth,” will ever persuade her to go to a “gahla.” I know a man, too, who was in France during the war, and insists that “chaffeer” is the correct pronunciation of chauffeur. There are other disputable rulings in these eleven words. Unless the committee obtain Parliamentary powers to imprison non-conformists, I fear their recommendations will receive scant attention in Lancashire and other places where they call a spade a blinkin’ shovel....

However, I salute them, and I will now go and practice pronouncing “sonorous.”

Daily Herald, 4 August 1926, p. 4.

By the same author: Free Trade Delusions and Common Objections to Socialism Answered.

(All items in this series.)


mikeovswinton said...

At last a headline that simply states what Basil Fawlty famously called "The Bleed'n Obvious". (Sybil's specialist subject on mastermind, apparently.)

John Carter Wood said...

You will likely not find it surprising to find that I had you in mind when I picked that particular sentence out for a title.

mikeovswinton said...

Yeah, but don't forget the former sage of Hull, now ensconced on the right side of the Pennines, "The Plump". Think he may agree.