Been there, done that. Why there is no need to listen to Melvyn Bragg’s radio programme on Saturday


How does this man sell his ideas to the BBC? He has managed to persuade them to give him a hour on their ‘Archive on  Four’ radio series to expatiate upon Received Pronunciation  (RP RIP, August 6th  8.00 pm) when all the while they have a  brilliant archive of their very own on this subject, compiled by the face of British linguistics himself, Professor David Crystal. It’s here, if you would like to have a read:

It’s a part of the BBC project called Voices which covers the history of English in five neat pages with links to audio/video clips. This particular page is all about Received Pronunciation, and includes a link to a short audio piece entitled ………. RP RIP.

So it looks like Bragg has lifted this nifty title in order to re-hash something that is scarcely new. The pre-broadcast press release

tells us that ‘changes are afoot’ in British society which are threatening the dominance of RP with people like Cheryl Cole leading the way for the emancipation of regional accents. But it is ridiculous to present this change as if it’s just started. To quote Crystal, ”  from the 1960s (RP) slowly came to be affected by the growth of regional identities, resulting in the re-emergence of regional colouring – a phenomenon now described as ‘modified RP’. ”  So that’s over fifty years ago, when Bragg was still in short trousers.

Given Bragg’s form on matters linguistic, I suspect his programme will be much like his book on the history of English; a bit of scholarship when it suits him, a lot of personal anecdote when it does not. I predict references to the Cumbrian accent will get a lot of air-time, but I am not sure I can bear to listen to see if I am right.

One last thing.  I most definitely do not like the way the Lynne Trusses of this world wag their prissy fingers at apostrophe crimes, but in the BBC press release referenced above, I find this The popular music scene developed an accent of it’s own–to be irritating.  I’d much rather apostrophes be left out than crop up where there is no need for one, and I have the (entirely unscientific) feeling that they are cropping up in unnecessary places more than ever due to fear of being excoriated by an owner of Eats, Shoots and Leaves.


4 thoughts on “Been there, done that. Why there is no need to listen to Melvyn Bragg’s radio programme on Saturday

  1. Hi Pauline – I’m a big fan of your blog. It’s always nice to read the thoughts of a qualified linguist, rather than those of a self-proclaimed grammar expert. I want to pick you on your last point, though. It’s always tempting to use a possessive apostrophe when we write ‘its’, and I don’t think you could ever show the practise has become more common since Truss was published. It was already rampant. It’s just another of those cases where English ‘feels’ inconsistent, because we’re so used to inserting that apostrophe in circumstances which seem superficially similar ("The popular music scene’s accent" being correct, for example).I came across a good example at work the other day. A hat had been left behind overnight, so somebody left it next to the communication book with a post-it that read, "Who’s?" "Whose is this?" was meant, of course, but the possessive apostrophe got the point across clearly enough that I didn’t have the heart to correct it.

  2. Yes, Justin, you are right. I can’t know if stray apostrophes are getting more common thanks to Lynne Truss, but her book is likely to have made them more salient to me than they ever were.I like your ‘whose/who’s’ example. It all goes to show that apostrophes are pretty much redundant. They do not resolve ambiguity because there never is any ambiguity to resolve, and that would be the only reason to have them.

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