Sunday, March 20, 2011
I'll take this opportunity to respond to British commenter Ben Leeser who said that he couldn't stand to hear upper class accents on the BBC. I love that accent myself, but then again I live in America and have never had it used against me in the form of a class weapon. I thought it might be fun to put myself behind Ben's eyes, and try to see the language war the way he sees it.
Ben must go nuts when he sees short films like the one above. In the film Peter Sellers is a twit, but he's confident that his accent and upper class bearing will get him a date with a girl he doesn't even know, and it does. This arrogant, aristocratic confidence drives Ben crazy. It's as if the accent was deliberately devised, not just to insult and exclude working people, but to rub their noses in the insult in as many ways as possible.
Well, maybe it was, at least in part. Even so, I can't really agree that Britain would be better off without it (Ben never said that it would, but I'll pretend that he did).
Listen to Dylan Thomas (above) read "Do Not Go Gentle." Does anyone seriously think that poem would sound as good if it were read by a cockney? Does anyone imagine that the reader (Thomas) had the intention of suppressing anyone when he read it? My guess is that Thomas talks the way he does mainly because it strikes his poet's ear as beautiful...which it is...and because it connects him to Chaucer, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Milton. If Britain ever exterminates that language, and the best part of the culture that goes with it, then Britain won't be Britain. It'll just be another tube stop at the edge of Eurasia.
Let me digress to talk about what language and accent is. It's more than a conveyor of text. At the level Thomas uses it, it's layered with ideals of intellect and civilized behavior, of self-discipline, dignity and compassion, of manliness and efficacy. It's amazing that an accent was forged that can convey so much information, and can attach these qualities to whatever idea is being expressed. It's a language that attempts to improve the speaker and listener alike. I regard it as nothing less than miraculous...even if it is misused by people like the Peter Sellers character.
Posted by Eddie Fitzgerald at 3:37 AM