Enquiring minds

A terrible affliction seems to have blighted the youth of the UK. It affects all young people regardless of background, ethnicity or education. I will call it the “Antipodean Curse” (AC) because, despite my love of that part of the world, their ways and vocal inflections have no place here. AC is the intensely annoying habit of speaking as though every statement were a question.

To illustrate, here is a conversation I had just last night with my 10 year-old daughter: “I broke my water bottle. I had just put it on the desk? Then someone knocked my books? And it made the bottle fall on the floor?”.  At this point I tend to gaze at the floor exasperatedly, biting my tongue to avoid saying “WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME? I WASN’T THERE!”

AC seems to have wormed its way into modern popular culture. I challenge you to turn on the television or radio and not have spotted a speaker with AC within 15 minutes. DJs on the radio speak like this as a way of proving their connection with their young listeners.

Why do they speak like this? Does it evince some deep-rooted need for affirmation? Some national deficit in self-esteem that leads the speakers to seek to ensure their listeners are really listening and so every statement needs to be acknowledged?

Now, I understand that speech and accent are dynamic and reflect current society and forms of communication. I have no more desire for us all to speak like we’re still in the 1950s than I have to drink two fingers of whisky at 11 in the morning, which according to my historical reference works (Mad Men/The Hour) was apparently commonplace. But still, there are avenues we can accept language going down and others we should block off with every available obstacle. Australians and New Zealanders can speak questioningly as much as they like, but let’s not introduce it to the English English way of speaking.

I am a pedant, I admit. I think Lynne Truss did an immeasurable service to the English language with her book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, in which, among other things, she drew attention to the plight of the apostrophe. Years of legal training mean I can spot a typo at 40 paces and have amused myself over the years by marking up numerous school newsletters in red pen. I know it’s slightly bonkers but it’s important. Not only is the English language being assailed in print (incidentally, why do newspapers now print acronyms all in lower case?) but in speech too. Too?

It’s driving me potty and I can’t fight this battle alone. I have managed to explain this scourge of speech to my children and now a mere raising of the eyebrows will remind them to lower their voices at the end of their sentences. The trouble is that I am forcing them to be freaks in their social groups. My daughter explains that she has to speak like that with her friends? Because they all speak like that? When she comes home after a party or playdate, the raising of her voice at the end of her speech has gone viral. I feel like I’m swimming in a sea of question marks. So, I need help tackling this. Can we have a national campaign to end raised voices at the end of sentences? Please?

As if to compound my aural misery I am haunted by the latest Bond theme tune. I love Adele, not quite as much as I love Daniel Craig, but now I’ve spotted this I can no longer listen to the theme song without grimacing. Those who want to continue their care-free enjoyment of Adele’s Skyfall please look away now, for what I am about to point out will diminish your listening pleasure forever.

Socio-linguistics experts long ago pointed out the existence of Estuary English which is the pronunciation of English widespread in the Southeast of England along the River Thames and its estuary. One of the elements of Estuary English is l-vocalisation or, to mere mortals, the dropping of the pronunciation of “L”. Hence, mortal becomes mortow.

Now, listen to Skyfall, or Skyfaw.: (click the link here) “when it crumbaws we will stand taw and face it aw together”. Lllllllllllllllllllllll. Or, as my daughter would say, “Llllllll?”





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