British accent stereotypes - 'news'

Gillian Kyles vaggmk at EARTHLINK.NET
Fri Apr 4 15:24:56 UTC 2008

>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>Subject:      Cross-post from FL-LIST: British accent stereotypes - 'news'
>Forwarded from the forensic linguistics list.  (Pretty amazing that
>research has actually shown that people form impressions of others
>based on how they speak...)

The writer of the above should live in the South where until
relatively recently a certain type of Virginia accent and most other
rural southern accents were definitely associated with a certain
perceived dimness of mind!

 From Shaw's  Preface to Pygmalion:

  "The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach
their children to speak it. They spell it so abominably that no man
can teach himself what it sounds like. It is impossible for an
Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman
hate or despise him."  Parodied in "My Fair Lady"

As a RP  speaker in my late 60s, and having spent my formative years
in Yorkshire, I can attest to the sigma (at that time) of having a
local accent.

It might be of interest to note that when the BBC was trying to cast
Noel Streatfield's "Ballet Shoes" (2007) they had difficulty in
finding  girls with the required RP accents to reflect the time
period in which the story is set (late 1930s) when an RP accent was
more prevalent than it is today. Finally, I believe a small boarding
school in the south of England provided a couple of the girls.

Paraphrased from the Guardian:

Still, while Harry Potter continues to unite adults and children, the
generation gap may be widening elsewhere. Reports this week that the
BBC has been unable to find child actors able to speak with an RP
accent for a dramatisation of Noel Streatfield's Ballet Shoes have
left some columnists wondering if this is the end for the accent of
Britain's ruling classes. In the Guardian, Lyn Gardner hails the rise
in estuary English, praising her own children's 'less-than-perfect
vowels' as being 'far more vibrant than mine', and takes the
opportunity to challenge the idea that certain plays require certain
accents: 'if we can sit quite happily and watch Twelfth Night in
Russian and Three Sisters played with American accents, why shouldn't
we also enjoy a genuinely Scottish Lady Macbeth or a Hamlet speaking
estuary English?'

 From the Times:

"It doesn't matter whether you go to public schools or
comprehensives, children just speak common estuary now. That is the
trend. But this story requires our leads to speak with a clear
middle-class accent." The great names of British theatre fear that
young acting talent may never recover from a "mockney" upbringing.
Scripts often have to be rewritten to accommodate actors trained in
regional speech patterns at drama school. Dame Eileen Atkins, who
appeared in the TV adaptation of David Copperfield in 2000, has told
young actors that they will have to master Received Pronunciation if
they want to take on important, classical roles. Otherwise, she said,
they will play parlour maids forever.


Gillian Kyles
203 Riverside Avenue
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902


The American Dialect Society -

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