18 June, 2007

of English English and writing projects

I adore living in a country that takes so seriously the general public's treatment of its native tongue. Is there anyone in America who cares how we speak? Any institution or authority, I mean? I don't know, probably there is, but in any case it wouldn't be as touching and intriguing as the British mindset about this issue. There are whole BBC programmes about pronunciation! And the growing scourge that has everyone so up in arms is, wait for it... "estuary English". I know, it sounds like a kind of bird, or fish, if you reverse it. "This autumn has seen a gradual return of the migrating English estuary." But no, it's a dialect.

I am continually fascinated by the many different accents we hear in London, and I have plenty of examples and questions stored up every time I get together with my friend Peter, or my friend 6point7 (they don't seem to find my interest completely barmy - a nice English word there). Let me explain.

I first began thinking about these things when Avery got the crazy "homophone" homework early in her first term at King's College. The notion that the words "raw" and "roar" might conceivably RHYME was a complete mystery as she looked at them on the page, but of course upon trotting out her newly acquired English accent, they quite did rhyme! And one of the nice mums at her school, when I told her of our struggles, said politely, "It's really quite a shame that RP [Received Pronunciation, I later found out] so limits the number of vowel sounds we produce." The more I thought about it, the more sense that made. It's too bad, in a way, to have a language in which such diversely- pronounced words as "pour", "poor" and "paw" in American English all sound alike if spoken in correct Queen's English here. In other words, however, English ways treat the letters with more respect than American ways do. For example, Proper English speaking pronounces, even accentuates the "t" in for example "stutter." Whereas the American treatment of the words quite swallows it. As do many utterances in... Estuary English.

Apparently the sounds of other towns along the River Thames are beginning to infect Proper English with their idiosyncracies, like missing or swallowed 't' sounds in the middle of a word. Of course take that too far, and you've gone all the way to Manchester. I often marvel, while watching "Shameless," at the incredible facility Anne-Marie Duff (a very proper English speaker indeed) has with the very difficult to understand speech patterns of that town, but to my untutored ear she's spot on.

Also in the line of fire is the pronunciation of words like "duke" or "Tuesday." Should the 'u' be pronounced like Americans do, a rather dull 'oo' sound? No, it should, properly, sound like 'ew', as in 'Chewsday." Then, too, there is the accent my screenwriting tutor had, in which the word 'assume' was pronounced "ashew-m." Where the heck do you suppose he was from? Anyway, I'm having fun with it. But Avery is resolutely taught Received Pronunciation, and is tested on it, too, if you can imagine. I love it.

What else am I loving about England right now? There is so much, but one is... hearing people talking about the biscuits they love. It brings every English person to his or her knees, remembering childhood teas. For example, as I learned from 6point7, "Penguin Bar" there are British people who take the Penguin Bar (and other teatime comestibles) very seriously indeed. Pull up a chair and take a look at this website, "A Nice Cup of Tea and Sit Down," for example.

And I'm loving my writing class. As you may recall, it's called "Creative Nonfiction," the idea being, to my mind, to find a way to use this blog to write something publishable. I want you all to appear in real print! I know I use the blog as a diary, primarily, but I also really treasure all my readers (whose presence I can spot when I bother to go on Google Analytics and see where you all are), and I would like to have more. Plus I would really like to have something to hold, and shelve, and keep. So I have been beavering away at my class, and it is really a lot of fun. This week's assignment for homework had been to decide upon one "small thing," as in a small object, that had emotional reverberations for us, and to write an essay about it. Or a "piece," as the tutor always says. Immediately I knew I wanted to write about what I call Avery's "hair thingys", the little elastic bands she uses for her braids and ponytails, and that in America (before the days of the prohibition-obsessed school uniform!) she wore all up her wrist, in colorful profusion. And I loved my essay! And my mother in law loved it. And I'm sure my mother will love it when I send it to her (right now), so hey: I'm sure it must be...awful, only my relatives don't want to say so. But I am really thinking hard about writing something good. I'd like to have something to leave.

Well, speaking of leaving, I must. Go pick up Avery, that is. She's playing with a friend and doing homework after riding together, so we could go to our parent-teacher conference. Can I kvell for one minute? She is doing so well at school. Not one even hidden reference to Dumb Americans came up. I think we can hope for great things, and I'm so proud of her.

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