A Smile for Yoko

304 - A Smile for Yoko

Yoko Ono (Japanese accent)
Hi, this is Yoko. The #smilesfilm is what I always wanted to do, and now we’re doing it, and it’s great! To join in with the #smilesfilm, just hashtag your instagram and twitter photos with (the) hashtag smilesfilm. Think peace, act peace, expect peace and imagine peace. Big kiss. I love you.

(sings): “We are smiling. It’s getting better.”


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Kamala Nair

304 - Kamala Nair

Speaker: Mark Worden (Standard British accent)
Kamala Nair is the daughter of Indian parents, but she grew up in the United States, and these two cultures provide the background to her novel The Girl in the Garden, which was published in Italian by Editrice Nord as Una casa di petali rossi. Prior to working on the novel she went on a creative writing course at Trinity College, Dublin. We asked her whether such courses were useful for aspiring writers:

Kamala Nair (Standard American accent)
It absolutely helped me and I think the main reason is because it gave me the freedom and the space and the time to write. And I think any… for any writer having time to write is a true gift ‘cause it’s rare to be able to find that – and so, to have an entire year to just devote to nothing else but my writing was… was really invaluable and I don’t know if I would have even thought to write a novel or had the… had the time and the mental energy to undertake that project, had it not been for that course. I also think that it was really helpful because it’s very workshop-structured and I think to be a writer you really need to have a thick skin and you have to be able to accept criticism, and that experience really taught me how to have a thick skin because people aren’t going to sugarcoat anything, they’re just going to tell you exactly how they feel and you have to be able to take what they say and absorb it and take what’s valuable from what they say and use it, and then also be able to say, “OK, that was not valuable, I don’t have to use that” and you have to be able to decipher what to use and what not to use and I think that experience was extremely instructive for me. I don’t think it’s necessary for everybody… it’s not like every writer has to do it, but I think that, if you can do it, I highly recommend it.

It has been said that Ireland and India are two countries that have a lot in common. We asked her for her thoughts on this:

Kamala Nair
I think Irish history and Indian history are actually quite parallel and similar in many ways. And so I think that’s one… another part of me was drawn to Ireland, but just in terms of the people themselves I... I felt like everybody I encountered in Ireland was extremely welcoming and they were really interested to know that I was of Indian descent and they seemed to feel a sort of kinship for that reason, so it’s interesting.

We asked her for some examples:

Kamala Nair
Both countries were, you know, colonised by Britain and struggled for their independence and, you know, were very much underdogs in that sense and had a very difficult fight to gain their independence, so I think just for those reasons there are strong parallels in the history.

(Kamala Nair was talking to Mark Worden)


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The Eton Wall Game

303 - The Eton Wall Game

Here is a splendid British Pathé newsreel which was first broadcast in January 1956:

Presenter (Standard British “aristocratic” accent)

From the traditions of the East to an English tradition, the public school. It was in 1440 that Henry VI founded Eton College for 70 poor scholars. Today, beside 70, who are at Eton with scholarships, there are 1100 others who pay their way. Times have changed, yet old customs still survive, like the famous Wall Game.

Over 100 years old, the game is played with the simplest equipment: one ball – look closely, this is the last time you’ll see it! – and one wall, which can also be used as a spare dressing room. Kit for the match is a much more complex affair, the boys being allowed considerable laxity. That goes for the rules too, which is just as well. The game is now under way; you can tell by the clouds of steam and mud. See if you can guess what’s going on!

If you’ve given up, let us explain the game, eliminating unnecessary details. Perhaps you’ll remember a ball. Well, that ball is being pushed, carried or kicked in the direction of Windsor by one team, opposed by upwards of a ton of determination going the opposite way. The rule is, of course, to play the ball, but, as you’ll notice, some of the players are a little short-sighted.

The game is between scholarship boys, called “Collegers,” and “Oppidans,” who live in masters’ houses in the town, but it’s quite safe to leave the game for a while, so let’s look at some of the unchanging aspects of life at the great College, the historic buildings and the familiar yet attractively novel dress of the boys.

The game now, as you can see, has reached a new peak of excitement, so you can be sure that the players underneath that heaving mass are playing with great zest and skill, not that there’s any need for anxious mothers to worry unduly, for the rules assure us that the boys do not deliberately strike, bite, strangle, smother or jump on an opponent. Their motto may not be “Do unto others as they would do unto you” but to teach them otherwise is like beating your head against a brick wall!


The Right Accent

303 - The Right Accent

Until a few years ago the “best” accent was considered to be the “Queen’s (or King’s) English.” Today we call it “Standard English” or “Received Pronunciation (RP),” and the Oxford Dictionary defi nes it as “The standard form of British English pronunciation, based on educated speech in southern England.” This is the pronunciation that you fi nd written in phonetic symbols after words in dictionaries and English textbooks, and for years it was considered the “proper” way to speak.
The old name, “Queen’s English,” gives a clue to the connotations of this accent. Traditionally it has belonged to people with a good education who are almost certainly well-off. In short, it was the accent of the upper classes. This is clearly illustrated by the 1964 fi lm My Fair Lady, in which the fl ower seller, Eliza Doolittle, takes elocution lessons with the phonetics expert, Professor Higgins, in order to improve her social position. In one lesson she struggles to pronounce the words “the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” like a lady.

Nowadays My Fair Lady is comical, not so much because of Eliza’s attempts to speak good English, but more for the actress Audrey Hepburn’s attempts to simulate the accent of a Cockney fl ower girl. Similarly, many old BBC radio plays exist from the 1940s onwards that feature lower-class characters with obviously false Cockney accents. Actors would probably never have got into drama school, if their Cockney accents had been real! In fact another name for Queen’s English is “BBC English” and in the early days of the BBC, radio and later TV presenters needed it to get a job. How could a presenter interview politicians or famous actors if he or she didn’t speak the same language?

Since the 1960s, there has been a far greater acceptance of regional English accents in education and the media. As it has always been the accent of those with power, money and infl uence, RP has become a symbol of undeserved privilege, and, in some contexts, is perceived negatively.
If you are a rock star, for example, RP can seriously damage your street cred! As rock stars usually want to appeal to a wide audience and appear “cool” among the lower classes, they sometimes try to lose an accent that would otherwise label them as upper-class and privileged.
There is even a name for a mock Cockney accent: Mockney, and speakers usually come from a middle or upper-middle class background in and around London.

Mockney is not to be confused with Estuary English, the name given to the forms of English spoken in the southeast of England along the river Thames and its estuary. Mockney is a deliberate aff ectation of the workingclass London accent. A person speaking it might adopt Cockney pronunciation, but will keep standard grammatical forms. A real Cockney would probably use non-standard forms (something that, in the past, we would have called “grammatical mistakes!”)
Mick Jagger was one of fi rst celebrities in modern times to be accused of speaking Mockney. He doesn’t sound as bad as Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, but he has always exaggerated his London accent in order to boost his street cred. Examples from more recent times include Lily Allen, Nigel Kennedy, Guy Ritchie and Jamie Oliver.

For diff erent reasons the BBC has also been anxious to shake off its conservative image. As late as 2008, the director-general of the BBC, Mark Thompson, called for an increase in the number of regional accents heard on the corporation’s television and radio programmes, in an attempt to end the domination of the standard English accent.
This strategy did not meet with everyone’s approval. In 2010 the veteran broadcaster, Stuart Hall, attacked the BBC’s “obsession” with regional accents. He defended Received Pronunciation, saying that “for English to remain an international language, it had to be spoken in a recognisable tongue.”

Stuart Hall is 80 years old, but he shouldn’t be dismissed as oldfashioned, as many younger British people seem to share his views. In January of this year, the elocutionist, Helen Hendrickson, told BBC Radio 5 that the demand for elocution lessons has risen sharply since 2010, as graduates seek to improve their job prospects.
So are we to see a return of Professor Higgins? It’s a possibility for, as English becomes an increasingly global language, there will be a much greater need for a common pronunciation, and Received Pronunciation may well return to favour.