Thursday 28 June 2007

The lost consonants of David Miliband

Norm celebrates the appointment of the first blogging Foreign Secretary. I'm a huge admirer of young Miliband and think he has the potential to be a great Labour leader when Gordon eventually retires to Kirkcaldy.

There's only one thing I find irritating about him, and that's his habit (copied from his mentor Tony Blair) of affecting an Estuarian tinge to his otherwise copybook RP/Oxbridge accent. This manifests itself most obviously in what we might call 'the nob's glottal stop.' Some years ago, The New Statesman ran a regular feature on 'the nob's pronoun': public figures saying things like 'He told my wife and I' - which were intended to sound extremely correct but were in fact deeply ungrammatical.

The nob's glottal stop has the opposite intention: of making middle-class speakers sound like 'ordinary' folk. So we get hyper-educated politicans like Blair and Miliband talking about the repor' they've just read - all righ'? I think it irritates me because I find middle-class people pretending to be working-class affected and patronising, and perhaps because (coming from a working-class background) I spent my childhood being told not to speak like that, if I wanted to get on. If I had to try hard to speak proper, why shouldn't they?

It's interesting how different forms of 'slang' have political connotations. In left-wing circles, if you want to come over as sufficiently grassroots, you just have to talk about the Labour Par'y (middle consonant absolutely forbidden). The Tory equivalent is the saloon bar slurring of the 't' into something like a 'd' sound, as in 'Thadd'll teach Blair a lesson'.

A long time ago Private Eye ran a spoof campaign to restore the missing 'n' in Roald Dahl's name. I think we need a campaign to restore David Miliband's lost consonants.

No comments: