This short letter (below) recently appeared in last Sunday's paper TV section, amongst the readers' comments.
I think the writer either has a huge chip on his shoulder, or is simply missing an obvious point. Why they printed his letter I really don't know!
Personally I love regional accents, my favourites being Welsh, West country, and Norfolk. Some others, it's true, I'm not so keen on. However, certain accents are less suitable for Radio or TV than others.
The whole point of language is 'communication', and if an accent is so strong that one can't understand what is being said, then it is of no use on TV. Some Newcastle, Liverpool, or Glasgow accents (there are others) are almost impossible to understand, and their speakers take pride in making them so; treating them almost like a regional Patois; purposefully unintelligible to outsiders. Also, certain ethnic groups have developed a coded version of our language that is intended to exclude outsiders. This too would be hopeless on a News programme.
Mr Sutton should not be trying to make this a question of North/South divide. It is a question of clarity and diction, rather than of 'class'. Speak your own version of English amongst your family and friends, but don't expect the whole country to understand you if you're reading The News on the BBC. The Northerner who cannot understand a thick Cockney accent would never be accused of 'coming from the home counties'.
Halfway through writing this, I received a phone call from an Indian woman who was trying to scam me about my Internet connection. I could hardly understand a word of what she was saying, and after my traditional greeting for such people, I put the phone down. In the same way, someone with a very broad equally incomprehensible Geordie accent on a National News programme would receive the same treatment, and be turned off. This is not some snobbish North/South action; it is a natural reaction to something we literally cannot understand.
However, Mr Sutton is right about one thing; I suspect we might need subtitles to understand HIM (from the North).
And here are the following day's comments about Mr Sutton's complaint. I think they all have it absolutely right! It's all about CLARITY Sir, not North and South.
Bravo Charles Foster indeed (I hope he reads this; whoever he is!).
You refer to the Norfolk accent as one that you enjoy - I had extended family in next-door Suffolk, including a couple of cousins in the then tiny and isolated village of Bacton, and until they went to secondary school in Stowmarket I found their accents almost impenetrable!ReplyDelete
The Norfolk accent to me is friendly and musical. I have no problem understanding them. I can't imagine Suffolk being that different, but I wouldn't really know.Delete
Whilst I agree about the merits of RP (received pronunciation) Charles Foster could have worded his criticism better. To call using regional accents on (regional?) TV "dumbing down" can be interpreted as unnecessarily offensive. He could have argued the case neutrally, just pointing out - as you did - that sticking to an English that ALL understand when addressing a wide ranging audience is a matter of courtesy. Not to say pragmatic.ReplyDelete
There is little point in excluding people from 'anything' simply because of their thick accents. As you say, it is a matter of courtesy towards the majority.Delete
I like regionally neutral accents for radio announcers between programmes and news although nowadays I reach for the off button while the newsreaders are on. On tv I rarely hear an announcer and never watch a news bulletin but if I did I would want them to be regionally neutral.ReplyDelete
It's when my wife and I both say "Did you understand what he/she was saying?", that we turn off. I have nothing against a slight accent of any sort; as long as we can understand them.Delete
The problem is exacerbated if you are unfortunate enough to be hard of hearing. There is little point in turning up the sound. A loss of clarity means it is almost impossible to understand, whatever the volume.ReplyDelete
The worst offenders (regardless of accents) are young wannabee actors who mumble their lines. Stage Schools have a lot to answer for!Delete
Last night we attended a performance of " Evita" by a local operatic society. It is totally sung, and all the performers but one were clear and we could hear what they were saying, but the lead lady had decided to adopt a Spanish accent and it was impossible to understand some of her sentences!ReplyDelete
Theatre actors/singers must always have good diction. They should speak their lines so that those in the very back seats can hear them clearly. If they can't, they're not doing their job properly.Delete
My memory of local programming from BBC North East is clear speakers. I doubt anyone wants broadcasters to sound like Prince Charles, but there is kind of a very standard spoken English that can be understood by any English speaker around the world.ReplyDelete
My favourite accent is what I call, and maybe others do too, an educated/posh Scottish accent.
It used to be said that that type of Scottish accent was the best to use in TV adverts, as it gave people confidence.Delete
I don't care about accents as long as I can understand what is being said.ReplyDelete
My point exactly.Delete
My wife modified her accent considerably when working in Bradford. It would have been seen as insufferably patronising to go into peoples' homes and ask how well they could manage in the baarth.ReplyDelete
Did she use the word 'tub' instead?Delete
I agree that announcement should all be about clarity and diction. Some of the current continuity announcers have problems with pronunciation so that "thing" becomes "fin" and "every" becomes "evry" etc.. It is a kind of estuarine English that has developed in London over the last twenty years and spread out.Delete
I find that advert "ge' a brand new quali'y mo'or" extremely irritating. I wouldn't buy anything from him. But on the original point, the long southern "aaa" sounds offensive to some northern speakers.Delete
We have a lot of Middlesborough folk round here in The Dales. I found it hard to understand at first but am attuned to it now. Get my farmer and his father together and try to understand when they were talking about cows in pure North Yorkshire - forget it.ReplyDelete
I went to our little Saturday antiques market this morning, and overheard someone saying "I couldn't understand a bl**dy word he was saying". It happens everywhere.Delete
It is a clarity thing to be sure. For a time, our news employed a young man who used a lot of 'slang' in his reporting. He seemed like a very nice young man, very happy soul, very interested in what he was doing. However, he did a live report that I caught very little of because of the slang and his rapid fire speech. What is the point of news if you cannot understand what is being said.ReplyDelete
Yes, That's my point exactly. It's certainly not a North/South question.Delete
It would make a lot of sense if broadcasters made sure their speakers can be understood. What's the purpose of news if the words can not be deciphered? The alternative would be speakers for each and every region.ReplyDelete
I think Mr Sutton has a big chip on his shoulder!Delete
1 Corinthians 14:9ReplyDelete
And into the air many speak; sadly.Delete
I have a really hard time telling the difference between different U.K. accents. In fact, just the other day I was watching Bridgerton and one of the characters approached a shopkeeper with a put-on Irish accent (to help conceal her identity) and if it hadn't been mentioned in the subtitles I wouldn't have noticed. My two girlfriends watching with me were incredulous. "Really?! How could you not have noticed that?" they said. I guess I wasn't paying very close attention, because I did notice once it was pointed out to me.ReplyDelete
I know quite a few French accents, but not all by any means. Parisian is raucous, whereas Southern is warm and friendly.Delete