Elocution lessons in schools

The state of education across the world

Elocution lessons in schools

Postby Gavin » 26 Feb 2012, 09:46

If you follow this link and see the associated articles you can see how they have now introduced elocution lessons at a state school in Essex.

Frankly I was amazed they were able to do something so politically incorrect. In the climate of reverse snobbery, the worse the enunciation the more "authentic" the speaker is deemed to be. Actually such speech is just lazy. Still the school has managed to do this by claiming that such terrible diction affects the students' spelling. I am surprised that this assertion was not also batted away with "Who says it is spelt wrong(lg)? There ain't nuffink wrong with it" - after all there are plenty of senior left wing linguistic lecturers happy to advance such relativism. The school also had to protest it was not trying to make people be posh - because this of course would be a cardinal sin.

An accent is one thing, and they vary in attractiveness (as other writers on this forum have mentioned), but when "something" is pronounced by a six year as "saa-ink" there's a problem. More power to the school. Perhaps its students will then be able to teach their parents how to speak properly.
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Re: Elocution lessons in schools

Postby Caleb » 29 Feb 2012, 04:43

This might be a bit rich coming from an Australian, but I had never heard the English language butchered so badly until I lived and worked in London. I may have had trouble at times with people with regional accents, but I could generally understand them and their grammar was not incorrect. Many London accents are not that different to a lot of Australian accents, but there were times when I really did wonder if we were speaking the same language.

The other thing that strikes me about dealing with the underclass in any country is just how poor their speech is in terms of vocabulary. Sometimes, it even gets to the point where such people have a really difficult time actually expressing themselves in a slightly more complex situation. There were plenty of times when students in both Australia and England would ask me what I'd just said and they couldn't get their heads around the fact that I would use a "fancy" word (which actually wasn't that obscure at all), rather than several other words that might not convey the precise meaning. Likewise with different verb tenses or moods. This poor speech was just one of many manifestation of such people appearing to me to lead very poor inner lives.
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Re: Elocution lessons in schools

Postby Elliott » 06 Feb 2013, 02:26

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Re: Elocution lessons in schools

Postby Gavin » 06 Feb 2013, 11:54

There are some good comments under that one, as usual! For example, one person remarks that one would expect this to be a list of PC "permitted" words - thus it is a relief to see it is actually some attempt at correcting the appalling diction prevalent among, it seems, almost everyone today.

Another remarks:

"Children should be taught to say 'homosexual' rather than 'gay'. Homosexuals have no right to steal our language to make what they do sound acceptable (just like they are now stealing the word 'marriage')."


But where the article says "Parents have been asked to monitor their children’s mistakes", here may lie the problem, I think, because, of course, many parents cannot themselves speak properly. I assume many teachers can't, either. Those who can should be hired above those who cannot, and they should be encouraged to correct children without hesitation. That's going to have to be an essential part of the UK's recovery programme from the years of Labour and its foolish all-permissive relativism.
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Re: Elocution lessons in schools

Postby Charlie » 07 Feb 2013, 11:11

I've suspected for a while that Tom Chivers is the most fatuous blogger at the Telegraph. I think he's just confirmed my suspicions with his latest blog piece on this subject of the teacher in Middlesbrough. Have a look at it and some of his comments at the bottom - he seems like a good example of how leftists can tie themselves up in knots:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomchiversscience/100201882/why-david-foster-wallace-would-be-in-favour-of-telling-middlesbrough-schoolkids-to-stop-saying-nowt/
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Re: Elocution lessons in schools

Postby Elliott » 07 Feb 2013, 15:53

I agree with you that it's yet another leftie being disingenuous about language and standardised dialects. They just can't stand it that the best dialect happens to have been spoken by the rich and powerful; therefore they have to denigrate it, not on its intrinsic quality but on the basis that it was spoken by the rich and powerful.

In that article, Chivers does concede that Standard English should be taught, but it is a pragmatic concession. In essence, he says it should be taught so that, and only so that, the poor kid sounds like a rich kid - an entirely cosmetic concern. Presumably, if rich kids spoke dreadfully, people like Chivers would be advocating that articulate poor kids were taught to speak dreadfully as well; then they would sound like the rich.

All of this ignores the glaringly obvious fact that Standard English is better than working-class dialects. It is standard for a reason - namely, it was designed to be the best form of English. Choices were not made expediently or simply because rich people already spoke that way. (Indeed, I believe that many rich people in the early 19th century actually needed elocution so as to adopt the newly-minted standard of RP pronunciation.)

I think what Chivers is (willingly) getting confused by is the fact that, sometimes, a non-SE phrase can be more evocative or pleasant or characterful than its SE equivalent. This is only to be expected; no one dialect will be perfect in all circumstances and for all uses. But it is fatuous to extrapolate from that that the speaker would always, or even very often, be better with their working-class dialect than with Standard English. It simply isn't the case. Yes, sometimes non-standard can be evocative or funny or whatever, but it is almost always of less flexibility, less precision, and less beauty than Standard English.

Like many conservative ideas, this one is instinctively true yet can only be articulated at some length. The liberal opposition win with a mid-way argument that is instinctively false, but much more concise, and gives the listener the chance to feel clever by agreeing with something that is both pithy and counter-intuitive. No doubt Chivers feels clever - I sometimes think that is the only thing of any importance to intelligent leftists.
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Re: Elocution lessons in schools

Postby Gavin » 07 Feb 2013, 23:17

I only scanned his article, but regarding this topic generally, I would say that like the relationship often claimed between poverty and crime, this may not be what it appears to many a liberal on the surface. To be precise, it many not be that riches, "privilege" and so on always lead to people speaking well. In fact I think money often leads to people speaking in a very annoying liberal posh drawl, like a kind of mockery of RP. One finds it often among the nouveau riche. Rather, the kind of person who makes the effort to speak well might also sometimes be the kind of person has self-respect and tries their best at other things too. It is not just the rich who speak well (if, as I have noted, it is even true to say that they usually do).

As Elliott said about standardised English, it's standardised for a reason - to allow precision and clarity - a set of understood rules. (This is reminding me of Wittgenstein's private language argument, and of Humpty Dumpty!) I also think it has more attractive phonetics than any other English accent. I dislike most English regional dialects also because I think they often exhibit what is actually plain laziness and they tend to lead to semantic vagueness rather than increased precision.

I don't, myself, speak as well as I would like to (I think I should make the effort to enunciate more clearly), but at least I'm not proud of my failings. I bet Tom Chivers speaks pretty well. So here I think we perhaps have another case of an unduly ashamed middle class person. Such people will bring down civilisation if we let them.
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Re: Elocution lessons in schools

Postby Elliott » 29 Apr 2013, 13:10

Here is a related story. That ol' demon of class comes up!
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Re: Elocution lessons in schools

Postby Caleb » 30 Apr 2013, 00:12

The top rated comments all say things like "don't hire a foreign nanny" or "spend more time with your children". Of course those would never work! They're too obvious!
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Re: Elocution lessons in schools

Postby Elliott » 23 Sep 2013, 13:31

Two large hardback books from 1931 came into my shop last week, The Practical Junior Teacher: A Guide to the Most Modern Methods of Teaching Children in the Junior Schools volumes I and V. I don't know what happened to volumes II, III and IV; presumably they got lost somewhere in the 82 years since the set was bought! Anyway, volume I contains a (very lengthy) chapter dedicated to speech. That alone probably separates it from an equivalent educational bible of today. What is especially noteworthy is that the chapter opens with a quotation from a government report of the same year. I think this quotation is worth posting here as an indicator of how ambitious and elitist the educators of 1931 were...

Report on the Primary School, 1931 wrote:We wish the cultivation of speech in the primary school to go beyond the art of correct and lucid expression. Children should learn to dislike coarse vocalization and slovenly articulation and to feel something of the dignity which is added to life when men use with care and respect the beautiful instrument of discourse which they have inherited from their forefathers.


It should be noted that this is referring to state primary schools, not private. They are talking about raising all children to the level of the gentleman. Of course it's very debatable whether this would ever really be possible, but one has to admire the ambition and the good will. Also, things like this suggest that pre-WW2 Britain was not, as popular belief has it, a land with a nasty elite trying to keep the working-class down. A final observation would be that there is no guilty liberal idealising of the working-class: there is no "make the education relevant to them and their lives" or "they're just expressing themselves" or "all uses of language are, by definition, correct" or "everyone has the language they need for their social milieu". There is none of that delusion and insincerity. What we all know deep down is acknowledged in the open: that slovenly articulation is slovenly, and coarse vocalisation is, quite objectively, coarse.

* One mystery though: why did this British government report use the American spelling of "vocalisation"? Curious.
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Re: Elocution lessons in schools

Postby Mike » 23 Sep 2013, 22:34

At my school one of the after-school "enrichment" options is a public speaking class, often run by youngish graduates of the school, and it's tremendously popular (vastly over-subscribed in fact). Which does give one the impression that it's something that's still valued by families, if not by the education bureaucrats and the teaching profession as a whole.

Elliott wrote:* One mystery though: why did this British government report use the American spelling of "vocalisation"? Curious.


Ah... <dons teacher hat>

The -ize spellng for those verbs is actually older and, if anything, more appropriate, since that family of words arises from a Greek factive verb suffix -izō. The move to -ise is actually relatively recent (see here).

In my spare time these days I'm actually working on a book (heaven knows whether it'd actually get published) on English word families which have arisen from Latin and Greek, and the stories (often quite amusing) of how the English meanings came to be.
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Re: Elocution lessons in schools

Postby Elliott » 24 Sep 2013, 00:55

You learn something new every day!

(If you can't find a publisher for your book, you can always self-publish on the Kindle. This is what I'm probably going to be doing with my novel.)
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Re: Elocution lessons in schools

Postby Caleb » 24 Sep 2013, 01:52

Mike: I knew that already. The problem I have is that I was never taught Latin or Greek, and so I have no idea about the origins of most words. As such, I use -ise for all verbs. Of course, I was not taught about this distinction in English lessons either because we were taught very little about the language itself, even at my private school. I know that a lot of people who went through school having to learn Latin or Greek despised the imposition, but on a daily basis I find myself looking up words to discover they have a particular origin and then thinking to myself that if I knew Latin or Greek, I'd probably know what those words meant or be able to guess their meanings. Today's word is elide.
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