I have meant to write a blog on this subject for years, but I figured I was already hated enough, and my views on the topic might raise more than a few heckles. Now I take on the fierce pride of the cockneys, scousers and jocks, what's wrong with speaking 'working class' they will say. They are proud of their roots, they speak like their parents, their grandparents and all the working class generations that went before them. I see the noble ideology behind their arguments, but let me put forward an alternative, actually I will stop pussyfooting around, let me put forward the radical thoughts of Professor Henry Higgins* together with a few of my own.
I can see now how lucky I was to have a mother who didn't give two hoots about codes, conventions or how a mother or a woman should behave. She was Irish, but she spoke like the Queen, her accent was the first thing she ditched when she got off the boat at Hollyhead, aged 15. Of course, it was a different story at home, where she was more like a giggly playmate, both my brother and I were born in her teen years, but in public, out and about and on the phone, she was a loud formidable 'English' woman, no-one dared speak down to her. As a small child, I was in awe of her powers, She had a beautiful, strong, almost melodic voice and she pronounced every word correctly. She was a huge fan of Patsy Cline and could sound just like her. She may have been considered as mad as a box of frogs, by some, but no-one ever took her for a fool.
My dear old mum was kind of savvy, she knew she would be treated better with an English accent than she would with an Irish accent. Such were the times, 'no blacks, no dogs, no Irish'. And we lived in Virginia Water, one of England's 'poshest' areas, which helpfully polished both her accent and mine. Yes, like most daughters, I grew up sounding exactly like my mother! I have a posh accent. Not because I was born into millions, but by the way I was raised. I copied my mad mum.
Professor Higgins was right, it wasn't Eliza Doolittle's dirty face and wretched clothing that would keep her in the gutter, it was her awful strangulation of the English language. He made a bet to turn a guttersnipe into a princess, simply by teaching her to speak properly. Ok, the George Bernard Shaw play was set in the early 1900s, but the arguments surrounding regional and, err, uneducated dialects, still apply today. We don't need the academic background of Professor Higgins to sum a person up, like a psychic at a fairground, we take in an awful lot with that first impression. Where do they come from, are they rich/poor, educated/uneducated, an alpha personality or a follower, outward appearance, kempt or unkempt, happy or sad? A bit daunting to think of it like that for anyone going to an interview, but we carry so much with us that we are unaware of.
Without a doubt, a person who speaks well, be it male or female, becomes significantly more attractive. They have no need to tell the world they come from a long line of washer uppers. They have worked on their voice and speech just as much as they have worked on their hair and body. So I wonder why so many young women go to so much trouble with their appearance, yet totally neglect their voices. It's 'Did you truly fly in from Paradise? Nah, Luton Airport' all over again. Where that old ad was ironic, this new trend to sound ignorant and lacking in vocabulary while dolled up to the nines, is heartfelt and done with conviction. The few words they have they chop in half, my personal favourite is 'well gell', the result you are going for. As in 'feck off, your eyebrows look more like caterpillars than mine, you're just well gell'. I just don't see hedge fund managers and yacht owners lining up for a date here.
I read an article in the Guardian many years ago, sadly I cannot remember the name of the writer, but she pointed out the importance of speaking well, especially in a face to face interview. So many candidates fail simply by having such terrible communication skills. The point of communication is to get the message across with clarity, to everyone, not just those who speak the same dialect as yourself. Being precious about your accent and working class roots is not a good way in which to advance, as Jane Austin might say. I also told my sons, if you can't take her to the Ambassador's Ball, where they serve Ferrero Rocher on silver trays, think again. Whilst it is sweet to have a limited vocabulary at 16, it is moronic past your 30's. How to increase your vocabulary? Read, read, read.
Kids who go to public schools speak well from a very early age. So even at a very early age, they have an advantage over their peers in the overcrowded State schools. Teaching your child how to speak, how to communicate is the best gift you can ever give them. It is lifelong, but in the early days, bad behaviour, temper tantrums, screaming and writhing on the floor, can be avoided if they can communicate exactly what it is they want. Note. this is not foolproof, especially in public places like supermarkets where most tots have figured out, they have their parents hostage. Their cute little faces look at you and say, 'put the bag of sweets in the cart or all hell breaks loose!
Chatting with your kids is, I think, one of life's greatest joys, they think you are wonderful and believe everything you say. That stops around age 11. Try to get into them all the important things, like good manners and the advantages of being able to speak well. It's hard with a busy life to find time just to chat. As a young mum, I read an article that suggested quality time and I followed it to the letter. I stopped wracking myself with guilt for working and always being busy, the designated quality time took a load off. That aside, kids can do find other ways to torment you with guilt, it's their greatest weapon.
It saddens me to see young mums playing with their phones, while their babies are gurgling and cooing and reaching out to them for attention. Babies think you are more wonderful than their older siblings, they never take their eyes off you, you should be singing, dancing, juggling and telling them all about the mushed up goo you are about to feed them. Their time in the highchair is very limited, so spare them the machinations of the Labour party and the back stabbing of Jeremy Corbyn, that's better suited for your mutt, who doesn't care what you have to say, as long as it has a sausage with it. But Boris is at least quite comical and could easily slip in alongside the telly tubbies. Of course it matters not what you say, but how you say it and how your little bundle of cuddles has your full, undivided attention.
I feel like I am an old voice, lost in the wilderness, when I am wincing at the dumbed down celebrities who have so much influence over the next generations. My views probably belong in a byegone age, where speaking properly was more of a class thing along with top hats and cloth caps. Everyone knew their place and there was an active dislike of classes outside of your own. Speaking well was scorned and mocked unless you came from the right background. The language of the streets was territorial, no outsiders. Ok, to tip your hat to upper classes (while despising them), but the middle classes were fair game, not far enough away from their humble births to protect them from scorn.
There is no shame in coming from a working class background, especially if you are successful, because you got where are on your own. Self made is more formidable than nepotism and inheritance. But you are the result of previous generations taking steps to change their destiny, and yours. Those who survived are those who adapted and changed, they didn't hold onto their working class roots, their hovels and backbreaking jobs. They became educated, they ensured their children were educated, they ditched the language of the ghettos and the war zones of their neighbourhoods (unless of course they became rappers in which case they became millionaires). I'm speaking figuratively of course, and in jest, you simply can't make a good impression on anyone, least of all an interviewer, if you tell her you are well gell of her Jimmi Choos.
I don't demand that everyone speak in the standard English of the old BBC and 'Listen with Mother' and I don't hate (all) regional accents. Sean Connery (Scots), Richard Burton (Welsh), Father Ted Crilly (Irish), all with voices that would make a girl swoon. But cockney, awful, especially when exaggerated to sound like a sarf London thug or a terminally miserable actor from Eastenders. Shudders. Fine line between cheeky chappy and creep. Scouser, hmmm, was mad about Paul McCartney singing, not so much when he spoke, but have never got drunk with a scouser, so will have to reserve judgment. Elvis had me with hello.
Language I fear is disappearing, text speak, the shortening of words, the replacement of language with emojis. Are children still being taught to write? Have books and pens been swapped for screens and computers? What brave new world is this? To be fair, I don't actually fear that future generations can be dumbed down. Each of them has on their phone, high tech computers that will give them an answer to any question they have, and within seconds. Logic would predict they will be more enlightened than any generation that has gone before. Ha ha, that argument sounded intelligent, until I remember the US voted for Trump and the UK voted for Boris Johnson.
Have I turned into an old crone? Am I out of sync with the rest of the world? Ok, yes I am. I want kids to speak properly, I want young girls to know how much more beautiful they would be if they fine tuned and harmonised their voices. If they made their voices as pretty as their faces. It is really hard not to correct the bad English of others, the old school marm in me just won't go away. That part of me is now in the pile labelled 'beyond my control', let them speak as they wish (while quietly sobbing). The world is full of Eliza Doolittles, beautiful young women who could increase their potential exponentially, simply by speaking properly. And by potential, I mean, the job they want to get, the man they want to marry, the life they want to have.
Yes, I know that does indeed sound so very last century, and I maybe watch too many historic dramas (wish bowing would come back), but I see nothing wrong with refining every part of yourself as you go through life's journey. By refinement, I mean not just our outward appearance, but also those troubled parts of our characters (zen?) and our voices. do we sound as if we are in the middle of a mental breakdown, or totally chilled and under control. Of course most of us learn how to manipulate our voices to get what we want during the toddler stage. Some, sadly, keep the same tricks past 40, which is particularly creepy. I have a pet hatred of grown women who speak with little girl voices, grr
But I have waffled on too much, I will end with a video clip, enjoy: