July 18, 2007

The sound of the King James Bible?

In other linguistic news from the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani ("No Mercy, Please, They're English", 7/17/2007) has reviewed the publication in book form of A.A. Gill's reflections on the English language and the alleged personality traits of English people. The newspaper-column version of one of these essays originally gave rise to our discussion of the cultural roots of word rage ("Word rage outside the anglosphere?", 11/4/2005).

Her review includes this interesting and curious turn of phrase:

... he delivers a finely observed monologue on English accents from "Received Pronunciation" (the sound of the classic novel and the King James Bible) to the increasingly popular Estuary ("flat, unimaginative, diluted Cockney"), adopted by the young who think there is nothing cool about "sounding like a character from 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles.'" [emphasis added]

I wonder whether describing "received pronunciation" as "the sound of the classic novel and the King James Bible" will really help readers to understand what it is like.

For what RP really is -- or was -- see here. Most of its characteristic features developed long after the creation of the King James Bible in 1611. And what "classic novels" would we be talking about? The Dorset dialect of Tess and other Thomas Hardy characters? Somerset's Tom Jones? Charles Dickens' cockneys? The provincial Tristram Shandy?

[Hat tip: Joshua Jensen.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at July 18, 2007 08:52 AM