Recently I watched a television documentary that highlighted the way we speak English in the second decade of the 21st century, as opposed to during the 1950’s right up to the day before yesterday. Yes, language and verbal communications do change that quickly it seems and some researchers believe that a person 50 years ago, would struggle to understand what we were talking about for most of the time.
This, in particular, is true of a younger generation who have essentially changed the long established pattern of speech and embarked upon their own generational ‘patios’ that is influenced by everything from their own daily experiences to the dominance of social-media in their lives.
The TV programme I described earlier, had film of people of all ages talking to a camera - from the 50’s and 60’s through to the 80’s and beyond into the new 21st century and it was fascinating. Firstly, young aspirational women of that time sounded posher than the Queen and painfully enunciated every single syllable as if it were to be their last.
Thinking about it - rather like my own mother answering our brand new telephone in our hallway during the 1960’s “Oh, hilloo - this is the ‘Leavaars' residence, with whom do you wish to speak?” You think I’m joking don’t you! Nowadays, the opposite seems to be true.
In an effort to become democratic - or is that just cool? Most young people like to talk very quickly and on a random scale of emphasis that always lifts at the end of any sentence so as to ensure every statement sounds like a question. Really bloody annoying.
Young women in particular, have recently taken on a strange mono-syllabic drawl that they obviously think sexy, but mostly sounds like they are attempting to be sick - as in ‘puke’ not as in modern way of ‘sick’ - which I am told, means cool and groovy. Then there is what I call - “Yes, we have no bananas’ unintelligible talk, which usually loops around itself going nowhere and saying precisely nothing. I find that politicians are masters of this doubtful art.
I’m so sorry, will you ever forgive me for using the words “cool and groovy” in this context a little earlier, without any attempt at irony? You see, it’s not just modern youngsters who need to be given a good clout, but every generation since 1945. In the 1960’s conversations between anyone was punctuated by the three letter word ‘Man.’ And the fact that you might be a woman was of no consequence at all. Indeed, for me the most embarrassing of all these filmed interludes explaining the changing nature of language, was of the late 60’s and early 70’s when people of my generation seemed to be going out-of-their way to appear like prize-pillocks.
Anyway, back to the dreadful generation that with us at the moment, most of them appear to have a severe case of lock-jaw because everything they utter is mostly through a tightly closed mouth. It’s a bit like having a conversation with a rather poor ventriloquist and after all, there are only so many times that you can say to a young person - “What did you say?” Naturally enough, the way that one person speaks to another is surrounded in a sort of ever present social miasma, that includes, age and gender, apparent social status, financial well-being, sexual attraction and a host of other imponderables.
Add to this, current fashionable opinions and a possible wish to discreetly mask all the above, can have a confusing and unsettling affect on almost anyone - whoever they are. You will notice that I haven’t mixed up the way that we talk (past and present) with regional accents? This is because it seems to me that, any modern speech pattern usually ignores regional English - or in terms of the United Kingdom, other national accents.
Unfortunately, most of the modern speech affectations are usually passed to us Brits from our American cousins - particularly those that young women fall prey to. However, it was ever thus, because I can remember way back in the early 1960’s living in a small town near the glamorous port of Southampton, some young crew members of trans-Atlantic passenger ships who would ply their trade between New York and Southampton being described dismissively as “Cunard cowboys,” because of their sudden and annoying acquisition of American accents after a couple of crossings.
Nevertheless, I think we have established that any sort of accent is very different indeed from changing speech patterns. So perhaps it isn’t that surprising that the young people of today don’t talk like a twenties debutante or a Victorian mill-owner; but I would like to know where and when the Duchess of Cambridge got to talk like what she does! But all the same, one would not expect - as I regularly do - to ask people if they are actually speaking English.
It is said that if a British citizen went back in time to the 1850’s the first thing that he would notice would the dirt and stench of that time. However, researchers are adamant that if someone like you, or I, went back to Tudor England we would understand the ‘English’ being spoken immediately, but it would be accompanied by a strong, underlying ‘country’ accent that could not be articulated with both lips clamped-together.
Last, but not least; did you know that although for many of us are annoyed by verbal Americanisms - their broad accent may well have been imported by early English sailors who, I am led to believe, came from Devon and Cornwall. Now, isn’t that interesting?