Thursday, 23 August 2012

after-lunch chat between Stephen Fry and David Hockney

What follows is the first part of a slightly edited script of a talk between Stephen Fry (= SF) and David Hockney (= DH) on the topic of colour and language. Those of my dear followers who want to practise their transcription skills are invited to take a pencil and a piece of paper and try to transcribe in General British the verbal intercourse between the two celebrities. I will publish my version of the text in the near future. Try to transcribe the text as if spoken in a relaxed colloquial speech style.
credit: BBC
credit: Royal Academy of Arts

Here you go!

An after-lunch chat with David Hockney
SF: It’s wonderful to think of hundreds of thousands of people out there and if we both said the word – I don’t know – turquoise, what is in people’s minds?
DH: Yes, I mean, it’s a little bit different from what’s rising up in their head. I mean we’re all on our own, aren’t we?
SF: It seems to be.
DH: Yes, it is. Remember, it was Dr Goebbels who very early on, by 1933, realised that radio wouldn’t be that good for propaganda. Film would be better because in film everybody saw the same thing. On the radio they didn’t.
SF: Which makes it strange to be talking especially about colour, where even in real life we can’t be sure.
DH: That’s it.
SF: And that kind of sums up the task ahead. Colour is subjective, emotive, personal. Its relationship with language is, shall we say, the very least problematic. I love that standard oil paint vocabulary, you know: cadmium red, yellow ochre, viridian.
DH, Yes, painters would. Viridian – I used to call it Mexican green. It’s a colour you see in Mexico. You can see walls painted viridian.
SF: And Oscar Wilde’s favourite word in all his language was vermilion.
DH: It’s just a scheme you set up in a way. I mean Picasso said: “If you haven’t got any red, you use blue”. The reason we don’t all see the same things is we’re seeing with memory, isn’t it, and my memory is different to yours, and memory is now.
SF: But if we don’t all see exactly the same things, if it’s all a bit subjective, how on earth did we ever start working out words to go with colours? Choosing a name for colours is simply a line artificially drawn. You just imagine a rainbow and you think: “Where shall I draw the lines?” Arbitrary – in other words. And culture’s influence on where we draw the lines and how we make the words is inestimable, as we’ll learn. But then, so is nature’s influence. Now to those of you who were hoping for a programme called ‘colourful language’ to be all about effing and blinding, apologies for any disappointment caused.


  1. Fry: `jes. ɪg`zӕkli.
    Hockney: ˌɜː ˌɜː
    F: ɪts `wᴧndəfl | tə θɪŋk əv `hᴧndədz əv θaʊznz
    ə piːpl `aʊt ˏðɛː|
    ən ɪf ˈwiː ˈbəʊθ | ˈseɪ ðə ˈwɜːd | ˈəm | ˈaɪ ˈdɜːnt ˈnəʊ | `tɜːkwaɪz |
    ˈwɒt ˈɪz | ɪn piːplz ˎmaɪnd.
    H: ˎjӕs | ɑː ˈmiːn | ˈɪts | ɪts ə lɪdl bɪt `dɪfrənt.
    F: sᴧmθɪŋz ˈbraɪzɪŋ | ᴧp ɪn ðə `hed.
    H: ɛː ˈmiːn | wɪr ɔːl ɒn ɑːr `əʊn | ˈɑːn ˈwi ...[Indecipherable]
    F: `jes ɪt `siːmz tə ˏbiː.
    H: `jes ɪt ˎɪz. jər `ɔːwɪz gedɪŋ bӕk tə ðӕt. dju ˈmemˈbər ˈᴧ | ɪt wəz ˈdɒktə ˎgəʊblz | u ˈveri ˈɜːli ˎɒn | ˈnaɪnˈtiːn | θɜːti ˎθriː |ˈrɪəˈlaɪz ðət |
    ˈreɪdiəʊ wʊdn bi ðӕt `gʊd fə prɒpəˏgӕndə. `fɪlm | wʊd bi `betə |
    bikəz ɪn `ˏfɪlm | evribɒdi sɔː ðə seɪm `θɪŋ. ɒn ˈreɪdiəʊ | ðeɪ ˎdɪdnt
    This isnt much more than a quarter of Kraut's text but it
    gives the pronunciations used by F & H themselves.

  2. @JWL: Thanks for taking the trouble to transcribe this section of the chat!