Cut Glass Accents

I went to see Cause Celebre the other night at the Old Vic theatre; an excellent revival of a Terrance Rattigan play first produced in the 1970’s shortly before he died. It’s set in Bournemouth in 1938 and of course all characters are utterly, utterly British and speak with wonderful, often hilarious ‘lah-de-dah’ accents. Nearly every line contains words like ‘frightfully’ and ‘spiffing’. I’m sure the temptation for the cast to send it up must have been enormous, but they hold back sufficiently to make their lines sound authentic and so maintain a ring of truth.

I began to realise, listening to the richness of the vocabulary, the subtle arrangement of the words in the sentences as well as the eloquence of the writing, how much our language has changed. Don’t worry I’m not going to start harping on about how the country has gone to dogs; how nobody knows how to speak properly anymore. It just made me aware of the way we associate rounded vocal tones with authority.  I know some of my clients who come to me seeking to moderate a pronounced regional accent think their accent is a hindrance to possible job promotion. They won’t get the job because they don’t sound right. I try to believe they’re wrong, but I think there’s still enough prejudice out there to give substance to their concern.

Changing someone’s accent is extremely difficult – I know I’ve tried and I’ve often failed. It takes a lot of determination over a long period of time, maybe years. Perhaps it isn’t that we don’t know, or are unable to imitate a proper BBC sounding accent, I think most people can put one on pretty convincingly. Instead maybe it’s not a case of losing an accent, so much as losing our integrity.  Are we really going to speak like a toff to our friends, family or mates down the pub?

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