Friday, 3 December 2010

comment is free

Today’s Guardian newspaper carries a feature headed “After the disclosure that Tories were worried by George Osborne’s voice, readers discuss how their own accents were shaped”.

Although we are told “To see these articles in full and to join the debate go to guardian.co.uk/commentisfree” I have not yet been able to find them on the website, which does nevertheless contain hundreds of readers’ gripes about this or that pronunciation (or in some cases, this or that vocabulary item or choice of words, which people seem to find difficult to distinguish from pronunciation).

With no access to phonetic symbols and probably no knowledge of phonetic transcription, contributors have some difficulty in explaining exactly what accent features they are referring to. They also fail to recognize that every accent contains within itself stylistic variants appropriate for different circumstances. (You can speak formal RP, or colloquial RP, or something between the two. Same with Geordie, Scouse, Mancunian or Brummie.)

So Simon Gilman says
In the 1960s, there were two accents common to our family. One we used among one another [sic], and the other we used with friends, colleagues, on the telephone and even to some relatives. These were two versions of the very same accent: received pronunciation, RP, once known as “BBC English”. The public version was akin to the accent you hear in British films of the 1940s, or as spoken by the royal family — my sisters my sisters, my brother and I would hoot when our mother answered the phone with “Air, hair lair”) (“oh – hello”). … My own London living has changed my RP to something even less extreme, following the “Estuarine” version exemplified by Tony Blair’s “the peopoo’s princess”.

By “the royal family” he must mean the Queen. Comparing her speech successively with that of Prince Charles, Princess Di, and Prince Harry, you see what a long way the royal family’s pronunciation has moved over the years.

Sean David Usher wrote
My accent is a Sunderland one, often referred to as mackem: to most people in the south it sounds like geordie (the Newcastle accent) but it is different. Some of the noticeable differences in pronunciation can be heard in these words: film pronounced “fillem”, school pronounced “schoo-el” and town with the emphasis on the “ow”. You know is “ya nar”, and a common phrase is “canny for a lad” — which is my dad’s answer to any request about his health and wellbeing. …
As for what he means by
town with the emphasis on the “ow”
your guess is as good as mine.

Andrew Dunn says
Originally from Glossop, I inherited my accent from family, friends and the wider area. It’s not quite Mancunian, yet not Yorkshire either… At university in Edinburgh I was pigeonholed as one of the “acceptable” English — it was Thatcher and the long-vowelled people from the south who were the enemy. … My accent became increasingly “Scotticised”, as a result of most of my friends being Scots. I found myself using lowlands vernacular more and more often, ken? …

57 comments:

  1. Has anyone ever done any research on the regional distribution of the two pronunciations of "scone"?

    One of the comments reads:


    "I vote for Scone to rhyme with "Gone""

    As far as I can tell, it's overwhelmingly pronounced scone as in stone, in London, Sheffield, Leicestershire, Transylvania, Germany and East Anglia.

    These are nice enough places to go for a nice scone, so you can have all the others.

    ReplyDelete
  2. In my survey I found no association of "scone" variants with region in England and Wales. Scots overwhelmingly prefer to make it rhyme with John. See my article, §3.8.2.

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  3. In Ireland 'scone' always rhymes with 'John'.

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  4. Slightly OT, but the Guardian's Pass Notes column a few weeks ago included the term voiceless dental fricative. Not a term you read in the papers very often, so it caught my eye.

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  5. I've occasionally impressed students by asking them if they use [skɒn] or [skəʊn] - with, as you say, no obvious regional differences (though feelings can run high about which is "right"!). Then I ask them what they think of the other pronunciation, at which point I produce a piece of paper on which I have previously written the word "posh", which is what most of them seem to respond with, whichever version they prefer.

    (For what it's worth, I'm from north-east England and I've converted my south-eastern wife from [skəʊn] to [skɒn]).

    ReplyDelete
  6. @Anonymous: I am from one of the places in that list, and I rhyme it with "John"...

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  7. This is a bit OT, but I was wondering why there was a "sic" after "among one another. While it is uncommon for "one another" or "each other" to be a complement of "among," it isn't ungrammatical. "Among" requires a semantically plural complement, and both "one another" and "each other" satisfy that requirement.

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  8. Even if the contributors knew phonetic transcription it would be little use: the Guardian's site does not support the symbols, which therefore appear as question marks when comments containing them are submitted. Very irritating.

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  9. Anonymous: because it's obviously a typo! The writer meant either "between/among ourselves" or "with each other/one another".

    Actually it may not be a typo - it could be a hypercorrection based on the prescriptivist laws governing 'between' vs 'among', and 'one another' vs 'each other'. These rules are supposedly based on a dual/plural distinction, but in the case of 'each other/one another' I can't remember which is which. It's all arbitrary nonsense anyway.

    You can tell it's wrong because it "jars" - that is, it sounds wrong to a native speaker's ears.

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  10. @Pete "In Ireland 'scone' always rhymes with 'John'."

    Not true at all at all.

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  11. Forums such as this are good for showing what non-specialists think about pronunciation. Don't you think it's strange how some pronunciations attract so much more criticism than others? Why is "scone" such an emotive word whereas "economics" (also divided into two roughly equal camps) doesn't attract any attention? When a English person does a speech, the crowd will always notice what vowel s/he uses in BATH, but very few will notice what vowel s/he uses in SQUARE.

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  12. I think when he says ''ow'' is refering to the diphthong /aʊ/ probably a special feature with the /a/, cuould be a really cardinal /a/ or nasal...

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  13. I would guess /ao/ for the Sunderland MOUTH vowel based on some others I've met from that area.

    Jack Windsor Lewis (who I'm sure is reading this) seemed to refer to the Sunderland MOUTH vowel in one of his articles on Wearside Jack. He used the spelling "teown" to describe the pronunciation here http://www.yek.me.uk/ykpostart.html I'm sure he'll be able to provide the phonetic symbol for this.

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  14. Perhaps that was too Delphic. The link is to the thread that John was unable to find on guardian.co.uk/commentisfree.

    ReplyDelete
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