This must be how the Emperor Domitian felt when news reached him of the Roman army’s victory over the Caledonians. According to linguistic experts at Leicester University, my people (the mockney media London types) have successfully extended our cultural empire beyond the Scottish border, thanks to EastEnders. Glaswegian fans of the BBC soap are now saying “fink” instead of “think” and using a vowel sound like that in “good” in place of the “i” in words like “milk”. Operation Faaahmly can be counted a resounding success.
The parents of those primary-age Glaswegians who now talk like Phil Mitchell are probably less pleased, and with good reason. In this country, accents are the record of where we come from, both geographically and socially, so an accent that changes at best justifies ridicule and at worst evidences an outright betrayal of your roots. Although, as this research also shows, an evolving accent is less likely to be conscious affectation, than an unconscious reflection of the world around us.
My new Scottish siblings-in-soap might be interested to note, for instance, that the accents in Albert Square aren’t really reflective of how people talk in the contemporary East End. Another piece of recent academic research revealed that the true cockney accent has long since migrated to Essex. When I was growing up, the dialect in my native borough was a Caribbean-inflected cockney my dad (a displaced Geordie) waggishly referred to as “Jafaican”. But since the area was home to a significant community of second, third and fourth generation Caribbean immigrants, there’s nothing “fake” about a dialect which reflects that.
What’s true of a region’s accent is also true of an individual’s. Most of us unconsciously modify our speech patterns to suit the situation. You might have a posher telephone voice, for instance, or vowels that get a little shorter with each northbound mile on the M6. And if you don’t, does that mark you as a laudably loyal local? Or just a bit culturally deaf?
Tweets, mics: plus ça change
Oopsie! Newsnight editor Ian Katz, is the latest high-profile somebody to confuse the fundamentally public forum Twitter, with the privacy of his living room. In a since-deleted tweet, he called Labour MP and Newsnight guest Rachel Reeves “boring snoring”.
In Katz’s defence, while Twitter might not be the best place, workers do need a space to let the professional mask slip. Waitresses have the kitchen, office workers internal email, and even MPs have been known to express a geniune opinion or two. Speaking of which, Labour’s spin team may want to stop drafting apology demands to Katz and reflect on the time Gordon Brown was recorded calling a voter a “bigoted woman”. Microphone on/off switches, much like Twitter buttons, can be incredibly fiddly.