Friday, 28 June 2013

Taught us? What? BrE jokes

  Another thing strikes me about "new" pronunciations and usages, especially those that seem to come from overseas, Australia, let us say, or the US. I am just listening to "Book of the Week" on BBC R4. It is "The Reason I Jump", a book about autism.

  A young actor, I think, reads the words of a Japanese boy. He does it very effectively, movingly, even. But I am distracted: he has an RP accent but he several times pronounces "tortoise" with           "-oyze", rather than "-us", or rather schwa. This probably seems natural for people under, say, 40 (suggestions?), or those from most of the English-speaking world. Do the BBC feel they have to do this sort of thing to sell the programme world-wide? No, I doubt they notice that much nowadays or, if they do, individual producers would hesitate to "correct", or even query, an actor's pronunciation. If it is not particularly Aus or US, is it a sign of what I think of as "international pronunciation", which often seems to move towards spelling, or selective bits of it?

  What is wrong with this? Well, it is not just a loss of tradition, which could be a benefit, but more of a loss of continuity, especially of humour. Lewis Carroll's Alice books are a foundation of this tradition of humour. Are we now to lose all those jokes, puns mostly, or explain them to death? "We'll, you see the teacher was a turtle, which is a bit like a tortoise and 'tortoise' used to be pronounced like 'taught us.'" What, you guys think that is funny? Puh-lease!

   Well, perhaps most of those Alice jokes are just out-dated and we will have to explain everything soon: "So, 'lesson' used to sound like 'lessen'. Well, that means get less. Get it?"

 Ok, I know the academic, linguists' response will be that language change is inevitable and I am just moaning about what is important to me now but isn't in any historical perspective. After all, they will say, Shakespeare's pronunciation was very different and you need notes to understand a lot of it. Yes, and that is why, sadly, the comedy scenes are usually pretty dire! Is it that the pace of change is quicker? What was the common currency of British humour for  hundreds of years, the puns and wordplay, has changed, it seems to me very quickly, in the last twenty, in the era (pronounced "eara" for BrE, "erro[r]" for US punsters) of the web.

  Ok, just another rather petty, niggling cause of slight resentment among BrE speakers? Along with Harry Potter, and Monty Python - not pronounced "PyTHON"? Just being honest: there is often a sense of resentment both ways in online correspondence about AmE/BrE. Reactions?

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