Re: [NTLK] OT - Do you speak BBC English?

From: Lord Groundhog <>
Date: Sun Sep 02 2007 - 18:53:09 EDT

~~~ On 2007/09/02 15:55, at wrote ~~~

> ...
> My grandfather came from Poland, and he learned to speak Engish in one of
> Henry Ford's Detroit factories, in a special program for immigrants.

Hi Matt, my grandparents came from Russia and Ukraina, and learned English
in northern New Jersey during their citizenship classes so they could be
naturalized (no thought back then of expecting US-born Americans to be
multi-lingual). I still hear the music of their Slavic-cadenced English in
my mind. I also still hear my grandfather's refusal to help me learn either
Russian or Ukrainian: "You live here, you speak English. There's no place
to go back now; Stalin will eat you!"

> The "Chicago Manual of Style" is my friend...

The _Chicago Manual of Style_ is *everybody's* friend. :)

> When I hear news stories from the BBC, I get pretty riled up. I catch news
> announcers pronouncing Kofi Annan's name incorrectly, mispronouncing
> "Afghanistan", "schedule", etc. And who the h-ll uses the term, "nil"?!!!
> I suspect that half of the BBC announcers I hear are "outsourced" personnel in
> Third-World countries, reading off of a teleprompter. It sounds like they
> hired a bunch of d@mn cricket match announcers!? I think the BBC actually does
> a disservice to British English by forcing such rigid standards. The
> result seems stiff and contrived, and this affects my ability to listen
> to information objectively.

Forgive me for saying this Matt, but now that I've been living in the UK for
the last 32 years, I've come to see the significance of a few things.
First, "they" (the English) were speaking English long before "we" were, if
we make that distinction by ignoring that "our" native English speakers
started out as "them". They have a certain amount of historical
justification for feeling it's "their" language. Second, once we allow
for historical factors, we find ourselves being pushed toward the idea that
there is not just one kind of "standard English". It can be argued that
English has developed more than one version of its "standard" among its
native speakers who becaome semi-isolated from one another for a time in the
UK, in North America and in the Antipodes. (I deliberately specified
"native speakers" because the kind of standardization that takes place
amongst communities of non-native speakers doesn't have the same status for
the purpose of this discussion, even though the processes are similar.)

In that context, the things you describe that annoy you about BBC announcers
take on a different light. I can assure you that your suspicions are
groundless; the BBC doesn't "outsource", if by that you mean "use people
with skills in English inferior to 'proper' or native speakers". That's the
whole point of enforcing "such rigid standards", as you put it. Although
they are more permissive about varieties of standard English than formerly,
they still work to minimize variations from standard English.

For example, according to answers by the BBC to public questions (they're
publicly accountable), the pronunciations of words including the ones you
mention is from a list compiled by language experts. In the case of foreign
words and names, that list often contains a pronunciation that is intended
to be as near as possible to the source language, and sometimes a variation
that is a more anglicized but still close to a native speaker's
pronunciation. News and current affairs staff, and foreign affairs
correspondents, tend to use the more accurate pronunciations when possible.
Others choose whatever they can manage to say. (BTW, if you know a
selection of foreign languages, you'll find that the BBC broadcasters
usually aim for a better approximation of the "real" pronunciation of
foreign words -- apart from Spanish, which they sometimes wound badly --
than we do. For instance, Americans trying to speak Middle Eastern words
frequently make me cringe, unless they happen to be fluent in the language
in question.) By all means observe that BBC announcers don't speak the
American variety, but why get "riled up"? How would you *like* them to
pronounce "Kofi Annan"? And how do you reckon he pronounces it? I've heard
him speak; he doesn't rhyme the first syllable of his first name with
"coffin" or "cough". He wins.

As for the word "nil", it's used commonly over here at all levels of British
society. It's part of good, standard British-English vocabulary. Just
because we've thrown away a useful word doesn't mean we should mock them for
keeping it.

Playing devil's advocate, I could argue just as easily that the problem here
is that you, who speak a derived variety of English, are expecting the home
of the English language to convert to standard American English rather than
remaining with their standard British English. There's less reason to
suppose they should do that than there is to suppose that we Americans
should return to speaking British English. :)

> What I love about the English language is that, despite numerous regional
> dialects, millions of people around the globe can readily communicate with
> each other.

...and that is a beautiful thing -- while it lasts. It's been a long time
since so many people across so many national and cultural boundaries have
shared a single language. Now if we can just preserve the functional
clarity of English long enough to stop killing one another.

Your separate point about the loss of the properly used apostrophe is
well-taken -- and frustrating. It's maddening to walk past a green grocer's
shop here and discover that he is selling "apple's, pear's, banana's..."
Never mind, I can't even talk about it without wanting to weep. I will say
that there is a growing movement here to restore the standard uses of the
apostrophe and other punctuation marks.


~~~ ~~~ ~~~

łAny sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from a Newton.˛
            -- What Arthur C. Clarke meant to say
(With thanks to Chod Lang)

~~~ ~~~ ~~~
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Received on Sun Sep 2 18:53:17 2007

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