Saturday, 29 December 2012

British Names

Some time ago I was asked to give some advice to a good friend who was about to direct a play written by a British dramatist. As an American she was concerned about the pronunciation of a number of English proper nouns. Aside from being something of a perfectionist I suspect that she was also anxious to forestall any potential criticism from a well healed American East Coast audience drawn from an academic background. I can’t remember the play, or the playwright, it clearly didn’t figure in my rather dodgy but well meaning advice to her which was as follows . . .

As a massive generalization the last syllable of a word tends to denote class, and by class we of course mean a geographically defined status. And the definitions are: - “South of the Midlands”, “The Midlands” and “The North”. This of course excludes Wales, Scotland and Cornwall all of which are, like Ireland, barely tolerated honorary members of the “British Isles” and only just about scrape into the species definition of homo sapiens and are generally regarded by the rest of the country as unreconstructed sheep stealers.

To the Midlanders “South of the Midlands” means a bunch of toffee nosed bastards with more money than sense. “Northerners” means an okay lot who somehow communicate with a set of incomprehensible accents which vary from village to village, but the pubs are great because at least we all drink the same types of beer.

To the Southerners “Midlanders” are essentially coal miners, nail makers and car manufacturers with an inexplicably difficult accent that few are capable of reproducing without sounding like part of the Pakistani diaspora (which might explain why many of the Pakistani diaspora settled there). “Northerners” are of course a bunch of madmen barely removed from their rapine Viking ways who somehow manage to communicate with a set of incomprehensible accents which vary from village to village, and eat black pudding (a sort of thin and foetid boerwurst or bratwurst fashioned from dried bulls blood and the innards of elderly cows) for breakfast.

To the Northerners “Midlanders” are barely tolerated, after all they are the product of a couple of centuries of sporting rape and pillage and are therefore almost of common stock. “Southerners” are of course the same as the French, and it is merely a historical accident that English (english!) is a common (common!) language. What Northerners have never understood is why no one else breakfasts on a sort of thin and foetid boerwurst fashioned from dried bulls blood and the innards of elderly cows.

Having dealt a little with the geopolitical history of linguistics necessary to understand the intricacies of English pronunciation it is worth digressing ever so slightly and dealing with the academic view that William Shakespeare actually spoke with a Midlands accent. This is of course incorrect because as we all know:-
Elizabethans spoke in a loud and languid manner
so amply demonstrated by actor Kenneth Branagh. 
It is also a little know fact that Elizabethans never stood too close to each other when conversing so as to avoid either receiving a clout round the head from an over-expressive arm or an eyeful of declamatory spittle.

Damn good show you’re not doing Shakespeare then!

But to continue with pronunciation: -

The bottom line is that the “a” in any second subsiduary syllable of a word is vital. Pronounced “ar” is posh (eg Bad- carster). The short “a” is working class, which of course we all are! Beware however because a long and rolling “arrrr” is definitely not an epiglottal shortcoming but signifies really lowly farming classes in the outreaches of the country.

Returning to the specifics of the names that you listed: -

Merton-cum-Middlewick - (murten-cum-middlewick)
Badcaster - (BAD-caster)
Wathampton - (wat-HAMPten)
Lax - (lax) What on earth is the context here?
Merthyr-Tydfil - (MER-ther-TID-ville) if you are a non-welsh speaker. If you want to do it with a welsh accent I suggest you practice by stuffing your mouth with mashed leaks and hiccupping as you under- emphasise “TID”. Amateurs should keep a large glass of water close at hand – not to drink, but to throw in the face of the first person who dares to giggle. Hey, but never mind, practice makes perfect. Good Luck on this one!
Blatford  - (blat-ford OR better still BLAT-fud). Bit of a problem this. The former would emphasise both syllables equally – but this is posh. The latter is better. The southern bumpkin would say BLAT-fud, (or BLAT-furd if he were-a-muck-spredin) and the southern posh would also say BLAT-fud just to show solidarity with the great unwashed of the North and Midlands.
Chittendent-Cholmondley - (Chittendent-Chummley) I’m not even going to begin to explain this one! I think its just something one knows - it's a birthright thing.
Ladysmith - assuming reference to Anglo-Boer War? (Speak as written!)
Lor’Lummy - Cockney meaning Lord ??? (It will have come from Gor’blimey or more likely “Lord Love Me”. As you’ve written it so you should say it). Actually better Lor’Lammy. You can use a touch or poetic license here and say co’r luv a duck – that’s a definite winner!
Leicester Square - LES ter Square. Correct!

Good Luck!

Oh, and let me know how it all goes . . . .

Interestingly I never got a report! 

1 comment:

  1. The play is obviously "See How They Run." I'm doing the show now. The context for "Lax" is a guy is "The Bishop of Lax". "Chittendent-Cholmondley" is a lady's last name. The Ladysmith line is just an American being a wise guy. Talking to a priest about a Cockney police sergeant he says "Humor him, old boy, humor him. Call him 'General'. Ask him what he did at Ladysmith." - Priest: "What did you do to lady Smith?"


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