|credit: Pembroke College|
To call Windsor Lewis a lexicographer is much too narrow a description and illustrates the somewhat superficial research undertaken by MB. 'Speech sound observer' (or 'phonetician') would probably be more appropriate.
There was ('past tense' because the feature is no longer available) a chance to hear sound snippets of quite a few (partly historic) voices, e.g. those of
- - Daniel Jones, phonetician
- - G.B. Shaw, Irish playwright
- - John Ebdon, former BBC presenter
- - Beryl Bainbridge, English novelist
- - David Liddiment, trustee of the BBC Trust
- - Baroness Joan Dawson Bakewell, English journalist and TV presenter
- - Baron John Charles Walsham Reith, former director of BBC
- - Arthur Lloyd James, phonetician
- - Alistair Cooke, journalist and broadcaster
- - Tord Alvar Quan Lidell, BBC announcer
- - Wilfred Pickles, Yorkshireman and BBC newsreader
- - Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister.
After having described his own speech-forming years MB reports the results of an article in a recent edition of the Journal of Sociolinguistics (not even the year of publication is mentioned; I found the source in the meantime, so here's an update: vol. 11 (2001), issue 1, pp. 74-93; Coupland, N., Bishop, H.: "Ideologised values for British accents") in which the authors report that 70% out of 5000 people across Britain "are proud of their accent". This includes, of course, RP speakers, does it not? MB then raises the questions: "Whose [= accent] do you like? Who could you trust?" A few seconds later, a similar proclamation is issued when he tells us that "today we seem to prefer it [= a regional accent] to RP". To corroborate this, Susie Dent, a broadcaster for Channel 4's word game 'Countdown' tells us that she "dreams of suddenly coming out on Countdown in a sort of broad Lancashire burr". MB repeats his mantra: "RP has ruled supreme [for 400 years], but today it's losing its appeal".
Enter Lynda Mugglestone. In her usual enthusiastic and lively manner she proposes the idea that some regional accents are an index to honesty, as can be seen in the banking sector where Scottish and Irish speakers are employed. Her daring hypothesis is that "RP is gradually being marginalised". One must not forget, however, that in 1974 Peter Trudgill had published a statistic that displayed a figure of 3 per cent for British RP speakers. If this figure is correct, then one must say that in the seventies of the last century RP was as much a marginal accent as it is today.
Next, we hear several sound snippets of voices who criticise regional accents, e.g. Beryl Bainbridge. MB then turns to Daniel Jones. Jack Windsor Lewis is interviewed (what was MB's question?).
I listened to several interviews with Miss Cole and I must say that though she has a regional accent she is not very difficult to understand once your ears are tuned in to it, which doesn't take long.
MB tells us that Americans seem to prefer the "voice of the upper-crust English" such as Hugh Grant and Stephen Fry. They represent the "lovable fops" as MB puts it. However, RP voices are also used to indicate villains, such as Ralph Fiennes in 'Harry Potter', Terence Stamp as the principal villain in 'Superman 2', Ian McKellen as Magneto in the 'X-Men' films, Paul Bettany as Silas in 'The Da Vinci Code' etc. All of them are classified as "posh Brits" - what a hubris! MB's theory is that this development is the "fault of Alec Guinness in 'Starwars'". Your Lordship, would you care to give us some facts corroborating your theory? No? It's not a theory then, but a mere conjecture.
MB then tells us that in April of 2010 Helen Mirren hit out at Hollywood casting Brits as villains in movies. Were there any reactions from the American film industry? We aren't told. What's it got to do with the assumed marginalisation of RP? We've got to draw our own conclusions.
To be continued