July 28, 2004

The Queen's business

The following BBC News Online story about a British accent survey comes to some conclusions that complement Ray Girvan's comments and Steve Thorne's findings (both reported by Mark today).

The details of the survey are not particularly clear from the story, but the results are claimed to reflect people's perceptions of different accents in terms of such things as success in business, trustworthiness/honesty, aptitude for hard work, and reliability. Khalid Aziz, chairman of the Aziz Corporation (which carried out the survey), is quoted as saying:

"In terms of success in business the Geordie accent comes out right at the bottom. In terms of associating it with honesty, it comes right out at the top which is why there is a lot of call centres in that neck of the woods. The accent that is really bad was the Scouse accent which comes at the bottom of practically everything, particularly in terms of honesty. It is unfortunate and is clearly a stereotype."

Sid Waddell, a darts commentator, has a nice response to the survey results concerning his native Geordie accent:

"There is a paradox here. If Geordies are seen are [sic] the most honest, but don't get on in business, then what does that say about business? I think these views are a deeply ensconced stereotype coming from the fact that anyone who speaks with a strong regional accent is thick."

Good thing he didn't say "thick regional accent" ... :-)

I sometimes find it hard to blame regular folks (or PITS, as Arnold sometimes refers to them) for their linguistic prejudices, given how badly some of our own representatives are often portrayed in the media. For example, there's a link to the above story from the sidebar of another one entitled "Yoda 'speaks like Anglo-Saxon'". What is this story doing in the Education section? And was David Crystal really interviewed about how Yoda's OSV speech pattern could be used to educate children about embracing linguistic diversity?

Mr Crystal said his mission was for non-standard English to be recognised. "The history of English is a history of the non-standard language. The people I'm attacking are the purists who say language should never change and be 'like it was when I was a lad'. The message should be that we welcome diversity."

Another link from this story's sidebar takes you to one entitled "Do you speak Elf?" (also in the Education section). No linguists comment in this one, but a "special needs co-ordinator" at a Birmingham boys' school, who is offering after-hours courses in Elvish, says:

"The children really enjoy it. It breaks the idea that education should simply be aimed at getting a job. [...] It's very different from just studying a language like French: the boys are doing this for fun, like [Tolkien] did. That has to be a good thing."

I don't disagree, but consider some of the comments from readers of the story:

  • Great. Will be really handy when these kids grow up into the real world and need to get jobs.
  • Don't go learnin' Sindarin - it's bad for yer' elf.
  • No, I am very glad to say that I do not speak "Elvish" and it will be a cold day in hell before I do.
  • What an absurd idea. Most of the children I come across can't even speak English, never mind French or German or any other useful language. If grunting is a major element of elf vocabulary, the children should be brilliant at it.

Full disclosure: more of the comments are positive, or at least not negative. Some particularly good ones:

  • I think that it is really great that these children want to learn it, because once you have acquired the skills of language learning, it is much easier to pick up another language, thus what they see as a fun pastime could actually turn out to be a big help to them in the future.
  • My daughter (aged 14) and her friends have been studying Elvish in their school lunch hours for two or three years now. They really seem to enjoy it. It amazes me how deeply they get into the grammar of it, but this can only be helpful for their learning the more "mainstream" languages.
  • Excellent stuff. They'll probably learn more grammar studying Sindarin than they will in modern mainstream education French or German.

(But this last one sadly continues: "More elves in our schools, that's what I say! Equip all teachers with longbows? Hmm. Not a bad idea. Now if only we can get that past the whining liberal orcs, there's a fighting chance of improving our education system.")

Finally, let's not forget everyone's real motivation for learning a foreign language: love, sweet love:

  • I can't speak Elvish. But I wouldn't say no to learning it if all the Elvish-speaking fellas are as hunky as that Aragorn. I wouldn't mind being his Bess!

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at July 28, 2004 01:06 PM