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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: August 2016

8 - Sounds and fury

Summary

This section is concerned with pronunciation. Linguistic scientists discuss the subject of pronunciation using the terms phonetics, which is the study of the way in which human beings produce speech sounds, and phonology, which is the study of the way in which speech sounds are organised and used in different languages to make the contrasts which distinguish between one word and another. This section, then, is necessarily occupied with the topic of accents. Everybody has an accent, because your accent is the way you pronounce your language, and you cannot speak without pronouncing!

Your accent normally goes together with your dialect – where dialect consists not only of your pronunciation but also of the words and grammatical forms you use – so if you speak Norfolk dialect, you naturally speak it with a Norfolk accent. But it is also possible and normal to speak the Standard English dialect with a local accent, which is what I do when I am giving a university lecture – I use Standard English grammar, but I speak in my native local Norfolk accent.

There is a small minority of people in Britain, however – especially in England – who do not have a local accent. These people are not only native speakers of Standard English, but also speak with what is called the RP accent – which is the topic of the first article. My main message in this section is that all accents are worthy of respect, and that no accents are lazy, inferior, wrong or ugly.

Well-spoken?

There are a few people in England who are not fortunate enough to have a regional accent. They include many of the men who are currently in charge of the nation. David William Donald Cameron, George Gideon Oliver Osborne, Nicholas William Peter Clegg and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson all have the misfortune of not seeming to come from anywhere in particular at all when they speak English. You can tell they hail from England, rather than Ireland or Canada or New Zealand. But that's about it. They are nowhere men.

This is because their parents paid large sums of money – £30,000 a year for Eton, currently – for them to go to schools for deracinated upper-class people where they, quite naturally, came to speak like all the other deracinated upper-class pupils.

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