30 July, 2007

An Unpleasant Discovery

I regret to say that i have, over the past eighteen months, discovered something in myself that does not please me particularly. I have always been relatively proud ~ happy, at least, if pride isn't to be thought a good thing ~ that my parents brought me up, consciously or not, in a relatively prejudice-free manner. I never really noticed this, it was so ordinary, until i moved to the USA, and discovered a truly prejudiced society. For all the progress it has made as a country ~ and i can't imagine how awful it must have been before the 'Fifties ~ it is permeated with prejudice, racial/ethnic, financial, geographical, and cultural. I felt both appalled living there, and pleased with my own upbringing. Until i returned to the UK.

At that point i realised that i really have nothing to be proud of, as i discovered a prejudice within myself that i had never before suspected. I discovered that without realising ~ or planning ~ it, i judge people before i know anything about them, by the way that they speak. I have in me, apparently, an inclination towards Received Pronunciation, what used to be called the Queen's English. If i hear someone speak in an accent other than RP, i find that i am biased ~ not against them or what they are saying, but i make assumptions which i have no right to make, and which are very likely completely erroneous.

Now, to be perfectly honest, this prejudice does not really arise in everyday life ~ perhaps i unconsciously expect people to talk in more regional accents when i meet them. But when i have the radio on, which is frequently, and an interviewee or, worse, an interviewer or, worst, an announcer speaks English in a manner that indicates their regional origin as being somewhere other than the South-west of the country, oh then, then i just am appalled at their lack of self-respect, at the shame which must accrue to them over the dishonour of speaking that way in public.

And how foolish i am to think this way. I recognise it, when i think of it, because i don't judge my friends for having Welsh, West Country, or Birmingham accents. It makes no difference to me, the way they speak; why should it, they are still my friends, still who they are. So, then, why should it matter when i hear such accents over the air? It can only be because, in my mind, the way i was brought up (i assume), the person behind the radio microphone is an authority, educated, knows what he is talking about, and speaking with what i apparently think is an uneducated accent is not the way to demonstrate that authority. It isn't a regionalism, therefore, that i have found in myself, a disdain for all things Welsh, for example; rather it is an assumption that there is a proper English that everyone ought to try and use, and anyone who doesn't is, well, uneducated.

Now i can't say that i am proud of this discovery about myself. It was quite an unpleasant shock, in fact, as i realised it. What i can do, however, and do, is to actively remind myself that the accent on the radio is not, just as it isn't with my friends, an indication of the value of the person speaking, nor of what they are saying. It still makes me feel good, though, when i hear a newsreader using RP; i guess that's still something to work on.

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