Thursday, 25 June 2009

crystalline Shakespeare


Listen! Here’s Ben Crystal, David Crystal’s son and author of Shakespeare on Toast (blog, 14 April 2008), being interviewed about Shakespeare’s accent, complete with an attempt to recreate it.

I can’t go along with Ben’s claims that RP is “only about a hundred years old” and that is “man-made, not natural”. What can he mean? It may not be natural for him, but it is (and for well over a century has been) natural for those who speak or spoke it natively.
Ben told me once that he is longing for the day when instead of saying to him “Gosh, are you David Crystal’s son?” people say to his father “Gosh, are you Ben Crystal’s father?” He seems to be on his way.

14 comments:

  1. I would question whether he's right that no-one ever pronounced "love" as /lu:v/. What about the Robert Burns poem, "O my luve's like a red, red rose"? http://www.robertburns.org/works/444.shtml

    As regards the beginning of RP, I believe the earliest reference to it was 120 years ago in A.J. Ellis's "On Early English Pronunciation". Also, Joseph Wright spoke of "Literary English" in his work, which must've meant something similar to RP. Are there any earlier references than this?

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  2. Barber, "Early Modern English", p. 136 says that /lʌv/ is the normal development from the ME form, but that

    'in eModE [Early Modern English] there was a common variant [lu:v], which had arisen by a ME-vowel lengthening process in East Anglia and Northern England. The form [lu:v] was especially cultivated by poets, because it enabled them to rhyme the word with approve, move or prove.'

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  3. "[RP] is “man-made, not natural”. What can he mean? It may not be natural for him, but it is natural for those who speak or spoke it natively."

    I would think it is rather clear what he means. If something's man-made, it did not develop by natural means. The fact that this artificial variety of English became the mothertongue of many does not imply a non-natural origin is impossible.

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  4. This is a naive, early Romantic idea of how languages develop. How somebody speaks is - and was - influenced by many factors, and while there might be stronger "breaks" in otherwise smoother changes, imitating American singers or the aitch dropper who gets along with the blokes in the office so well isn't that different from imitating other people of subjectively assessed prestige.

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  5. If we talk of RP as a non-regional accent, I would question why most of the early documents referring to it are from people from the south of England. To have evidence that it was more widespread in this period, we need some reference to it from northerners, Welshmen, perhaps Scotsmen, etc. from 100 years ago. Joseph Wright was from Yorkshire, but his phrase "literary English" might've been imagined as the language of Oxford University, where he worked, rather than a non-regional accent.

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  6. May the blogmaster correct me, but that isn't a contradiction, is it? RP might clearly be strongly based on "Southern" dialects (or nouveaux-London midlanders), but then it came to be regarded neutral. Scotland and maybe Wales are a different matter anyway.

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  7. I just think back to the upper-class landowners of my childhood in the north. Unlike the local rural and urban working class, they spoke RP. Yet they were born and brought up in the north. They might sometimes have spent parts of "the season" in London, but that was not their home.

    Those of you who know the phonetician Tony Bladon will see a good example of someone from the midlands (Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire) who has never lived in the south but who speaks (or spoke?) unquestioned "natural" RP. (Sorry to be ad hominem. I haven't seen him for a few years, so perhaps he's contaminated with Californian by now.)

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  8. I cannot see any reason why RP is less "natural" than, say, Estuary English. Both spread as a result of social pressures.

    In RP's case, these included the public school system of the late 19th century, the desire to be perceived as "educated", and its propagation by the BBC for many years. For Estuary English, the social pressures include a desire _not_ to be perceived as stuffy or formal, and its apparent adoption by influential media personalities.

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  9. EE seems even less "natural" to me, but that's probably because we see this change in our own lifetime - the change in prestige, I mean.

    Strangely, even though people must be born into EE-speaking families by now, it often looks like a fake. When "the princes" talk, I'm never sure they're mocking the glottal stopping masses. Well, I'm quite sure they aren't, but just sounds surreal.

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  10. Seeing as my pic graces your excellent blog, let me add a comment or two. I think the 'man-made' comment reflects a comment of mine about the somewhat artificial evolution of the accent towards the end of the 18th century. I don't think anyone out there today goes around teaching Estuary English in elocution classes, whereas Sheridan (senior) earned huge amounts of money doing this for upper-class speech then. And groups of people got together to 'protect the letter h', and suchlike. When that kind of conscious adoption takes place, I think there are grounds for saying RP wasn't quite like other naturally evolving accents. It was to some extent shaped by a few.

    It's true that there were regional variants of 'love' with a long vowel - in the West Country as well as in Scotland and the East Midlands. It's possible that this was used by poetic Londoners, as Barber suggests, but I doubt it. I think the rhyming evidence suggests that the rhymes went in the other direction, at least some of the time. In Shakespeare, there are instances of 'love' rhyming with 'above' and 'dove'; 'lover' with 'cover' and 'discover'. Jonson says that 'love' rhymes with 'prove', not the other way round. Doubtless both pronunciations were current, and doubtless also some poets saw them as eye-rhymes. It was a very mixed situation.

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  11. I was born into an EE speaking family in the 1930s. I recall a quote from Ellis that the language of the Thames Estuary area was hardly a dialect, just bad English. I first heard "Estuary English" mentioned at school in the 1940s in a lesson on dialects. We wanted to know what our dialect was. The teacher said Estuary English, but added that it wasn't really a dialect, an echo from Ellis perhaps. In the 1950s, I needed a few weeks early release from National Service (compulsory military service) to start university. My commanding officer was furious, apart from turning my back on her majesty, I couldn't even speak English. But that was all before that change in prestige of EE. My first experience of that was when a friend said I was awfully good at this new thing. But it must have already started back then in the 1950s and 1960s, I've never felt any pressure to switch to RP, and my attempts to imitate RP sound like a caricature (just like some RP speakers' imitations of EE).

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  12. @Sidney Wood
    That's interesting. Is this A.J. Ellis you're talking about? He said that Liverpool and Birkenhead had "no dialect proper" as well. (See page 92 in this PDF http://www.englang.ed.ac.uk/people/livengkoi.pdf ) I think he considered a dialect to have links to earlier forms of speech whereas Scouse and Estury English and modern, polyglot accents.

    However, that was "modern" in Ellis' day, and, if Estury English has been around for so long, it's not modern anymore.

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  13. Sorry, I meant page 2.

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  14. Ed, yes, I thought I found it on Jhon Wells' site several years ago, I can't find it today here:

    http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/estuary/ee-refs.htm

    but it might well have been a ref. within something John Wells wrote himself, that led me on to other refs. Sorry I can't be more specific.

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