Monday, 27 October 2014

Laugh or Cry

I was reading a copy of the Saturday 25 October Daily Telegraph when I came upon an article headed "Mind Your French, They're Getting So Stressed-Out Across the Channel". It was purportedly by a person called Bernard Richards, an emeritus professor at Brasenose. It detailed Professor Richards's disgust at the way the French are, apparently, stretching out their syllables in an 'obscene' way, making 'a language which always tended towards preciosity and pretentiousness sound even more precious and pretentious'. This new trend is exacerbated, the article claims, by a 'tendency towards list and catalogue in dialogue rather than constructing proper sentences'. 'The French invented impressionism', the professor comments about this supposed change in conversational style, 'and the chickens are coming home to roost.'

Apparently it is French (and the French?) that is/are the problem.  'There is a sort of matter-of-factness and terseness about the two-syllable English words with the stress on the first vowel, which resists affected and precious pronunciation', Professor Richards explains, whereas, 'The French have a fatal attraction for self-indulgence'. About this latest outbreak of Gallic ghastliness, he says it is 'frightfully camp, not to say kitschy. And it explains why many Englishmen, not only Edward Heath and Elton John, speak French with such emphatically English intonations.' And here was me thinking it was just because the English are completely feeble about learning foreign languages.

At first I assumed the article was a joke, a kind of manufactured piece of Captain Mannering huffiness, to accompany the misguided remake of Dad's Army. I looked up Professor Richards though and he seems not to be invented. If you want to read his marvellous outburst of Little Englishness, here it is:









8 comments:

  1. How dare the French speak their own language in their own way...utter disgrace I say!

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    1. Why the hell did Britain join the Common Market if they were simply going to carry on as if nothing had happened?

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  2. It's Captain Mainwaring - a joke on English pronunciation

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    1. You're right, you're right, and the bridge called Blackfriars is pronounced Blaffers, I forgot

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  3. The classicist Bernard Knox attributed the English trouble with French to a curriculum that emphasized the rules over the sounds. He gave the example of an interview of Sir Anthony Eden in "The Sorrow and the Pity": impeccable syntax with blatant upper-class English vowels.

    Spanish, like French, is a very lightly stressed language. Most of the Spanish-speakers I know are tradesmen and techies, so perhaps not of the classes one looks to for affectation. But do the elite go in for that?

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    1. Some of the people who taught me French - in the UK and Australia - seemed, judging by their accents, never to have heard French spoken. I heard someone who came originally from Vietnam on the radio in Australia saying that when he first arrived no-one could understand a single word he was saying, which he found very worrying, since he'd been teaching English for 25 years at home.

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    2. My father studied French in high school from two nuns, the first of which I gather spoke the dialect of Stratford atte Bowe. When he got to the second year and a teacher who could produce more authentic noises, he and his best friend decided to sit where they could not catch each other's eye and break into laughter, which would have brought trouble on them.

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  4. That's where I went wrong - I never resisted the opportunity to catch friends' eyes and get the giggles. Your father was a wiser human being than I will ever be, I suspect.

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