§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA rose to call attention to the importance of phonetics in connexion with democratic education; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope that the Motion that I have the honour to put before your Lordships will be launched on rather a calmer sea, because the debate which we have just had, in the opinion of many of us, raised several definite questions which might be debated for a long time. I find that there are many people who do not know what the word "phonetics" means, so I think it is a good thing to start by saying that it concerns sound and speech. I am very sorry to see that the Leader of the House has gone out, because I would like to have had his full consent to this debate going on in public. I might have referred, for instance, to a slight hesitancy in the speech of the Prime Minister which might have been of advantage to the enemy, and I am sorry I cannot have his assurance on that point. However, at the risk of giving information to the enemy, I will proceed.
§ All of us, I think, are proud of the fact that this country is one of the most remarkable democracies in Europe, and anything that we can do to enable a man to rise from the bottom to the top should be done. We do as much as we can. Large sums are spent on education with the general conception of providing a ladder whereby anybody, from whatever class he comes, should be able to rise to the top. But there is a bar—and the point of my speech is that there is always a 648 bar—in speech. Your Lordships know quite well that if anybody comes into your room he has only to say a very few words and you are able to place him socially immediately. Now I consider that a most undemocratic trait in our national life. It is not true, curiously enough, in Scotland. It is not true in America, and it is impossible for us to judge the social status of anybody from our Dominions. It is not true abroad. I have seen a mechanic in Paris rise to be a leader of fashion within about eighteen months—a thing which would have been quite impossible in this country, with the ordinary speech indulged in by mechanics.
§ Mr. Bernard Shaw has dealt with part of this subject in his great play Pygmalion, but he deals more or less with the geographical aspect of speech, rather than with the social, and he says there that an expert could readily distinguish between the accents of Homerton and Hoxton, South Kensington and Westminster. I do not mind the geographical difference at all. I think there is a lot to be said for a slight touch of Lancashire, or a slight touch of Yorkshire, or even for a slight touch of Wales. It is uncouth, badly pronounced English, which I am anxious to stop. I do not know if any of your Lordships read a remarkable English paper called Nature, which is the primary scientific paper in the world, but there was a letter in it the other day signed by many distinguished people, in which they defended the abolition of all public schools on the ground that they existed to educate and produce a governing class. That letter was written in envy, hatred, malice and all uncharitableness, and for the life of me I could not understand this hatred of the public schools. My experience of a public school really was the fagging which I had to indulge in to sixth formers and being flogged for cooking the toast too well. It might have been a very good training for a waiter, but I never could understand how it was part of the education of the governing classes.
§ But I know why there is the hatred of the public schoolboys. It is because the public schoolboys speak very good cultivated English—I do not say grammatical English. If a public school boy and a boy educated somewhere else were to apply for a job and go to see the owner of a big factory, the boy from the public 649 school—such is the snobbism of life—would be asked to lunch to discuss the matter and the boy with the bad accent would be told to come back at half-past four. It is for that reason that there is loathing of the public school—because the public school produces that form of speech which is not produced in the other schools and which could be produced.
§ We can go further the other way. Let us suppose that two of our most distinguished members here were dressed up suitably in corduroys and sweaters—for instance, the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House—and entered into conversation with ordinary people in a public-house in Wapping. Just picture that for a moment. Is it not quite true to say that after three minutes they would be calling the Lord Chancellor "Sir"—not because he knew more about racing or knew more about football, but because his voice is different, he has a cultivated voice. It is not that the two noble Viscounts speak alike—not at all. The Lord Chancellor has a most musical, lovely voice, but he has got all the tricks of the lawyer—he cannot possibly say "Thank you," he has got to say "I am much obliged." Of course, the Leader of the House speaks what can only be described as the Cecilian dialect—very acceptable and very agreeable, but there is an enormous difference between them.
§ What I wish to impress on your Lordships is that I am not pleading for what is sometimes called "standard English." There are very big variations that can be introduced. Why is it that we allow children to drop "h's" and, what is more extraordinary, put them in where they are not wanted? That has only to be corrected early enough. Why should the word "roundabout," for example, be called "rahnd-abaht"? Why should "paint" be "pint"—a very good word in its own place, but not representing "paint." Why should "male" be pronounced "moil" and "tail" "toil"? Then there is a pronunciation which is the reverse, and which is sometimes called the "Oxford accent" in which a word like "refined" becomes "refained." That is one of the worst of all.
§ All these types of extreme English should be jumped on in early education. It is accepted now that the spoken word is becoming more and more important. 650 In the old days audiences were so small that people could only speak to several thousands, but look at the difference to-day when the great figures of the world speak to millions. Broadcasting has an immense influence on this question of pronunciation. I would like to pay public tribute to those poor people who have to announce the news, good, bad and indifferent, about six times a day. I must say they have a very trying job, but except for one person—I forget his name—who is rather sexless and monotonous, I think they do a wonderful job. They are all rather different in accent, but they have vigour, robustness, and speak educated English. I give them full marks. Some of the women also are very good, but why an Englishwoman should try to croon in a Bowery accent and out of tune, I never can understand. Twenty years ago, if a boy was born on the outskirts of London, speaking some outrageous dialect—say of Cockney—if he were an ambitious boy he would be able to rise and rise and then, about the age of eighteen, he would come up, bump! against the insuperable barrier of speech that would keep him there until he had learnt how to speak, which, at that age, sometimes cannot be done.
§ The situation is different to-day. Every boy throughout the land is listening day by day to the news in English, spoken more or less as it should be spoken, and it may well be that at the back of his mind, although he does not speak that language, he will be able to reproduce it when he wants. I do not know whether the Board of Education will agree with me on that or not, but it is a great hope that we may be able to get an English which will not show these class distinctions. English is becoming automatically, without any pressure, the universal language. The influences at work are very profound. There is, first of all, flying, which is bringing the world closer together and which is conducted so largely by Americans and ourselves. Then there is broadcasting. There is not an educated man or woman throughout the world who does not want to know what London or New York is thinking of things, and for that reason they have to understand English. Then there is the profound influence of films. Already, before the war, in Paris, unless you spoke English or understood it you could not enjoy the best films. It is a 651 growth which will go on. I do not say that everyone will speak English, but those who do not will have to understand it.
I shall conclude by quoting, if I may, some words from a book which anyone interested in this subject ought to read, The Teaching of English in England, which is produced by the Board of Education. This book draws attention to the popularity of the English language, and tells how, in 1919, the Northern Peace Conference, which met in Stockholm, made an inquiry of representatives of countries where none of the great languages—English, German, and French—were spoken, and asked them what in their opinion was the most suitable language for universal use. Out of fifty-four replies, twenty-nine said English. That was in 1919; how much more would it be to-day. They passed this resolution:
If English is to become the international language, everybody who wishes to learn it must be given the opportunity. It must be taught, in all the schools of the world, optional in the elementary and compulsory in the higher schools.
This very pregnant passage follows:
This is a measure of the prestige which the English language possesses abroad. It surely merits more attention in the schools of England if only from the point of view of a practical asset. English children required by law to attend school are surely entitled to be taught in a scientific and effective way, the accepted speech of their great country.
I beg to move for Papers.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I rise merely to correct the noble Lord in what he said at one particular part of his speech. I want to point out to him that a change in our present system does not rest with the Board of Education at all. It really rests with the education authorities. They appoint the teachers in the elementary, the secondary and the higher training schools and any change which is to be made ought to be done through them. All the Board of Education can do, as the noble Lord indicated, is to circularize the bodies in order to point out to them what must be done under a better system.
My Lords, before the Lord Chancellor who, I understand, is to be good enough to reply, answers this very important plea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, I think an opinion should be given on this subject from these Benches. The thesis, as I understand it, of my noble friend Lord Brabazon, is this; that the so-called working classes, or the poor sections of the community, are kept down or handicapped and do not have the same opportunities of advancement because they do not speak with a similar accent to those persons who are in the possessing or, as he calls it, the governing class. That I understand is the thesis. I want it I may briefly to controvert that. I think Lord Brabazon, in his experience, especially as Minister of Aircraft Production and Minister of Transport before that, has known literally thousands of men who spoke a very different English from himself, who spoke with the dialect of the Black Country, or of Yorkshire, or the industrial parts of the West of Scotland and who have reached very high positions in industry and in the professions, and particularly in the engineering industry. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that in the engineering industry, of which he and I both have some experience, and he a great deal more than I, the class who speak with what he calls the public school accent may be under an actual handicap.
A man who speaks with the sort of accent Lord Brabazon seems so much to admire and which I notice he is careful to avoid himself and which he describes, I gather, as Oxford English, far from being asked to lunch is regarded, unless he comes with very high certificates, with a great deal of suspicion; whereas the forthright man who has obviously graduated through the workshops and served his time and has not this much admired accent referred to by Lord Brabazon, has actually a better chance of being taken seriously. I have heard it said, and I believe it is true, that in certain of the Scottish universities the dons tell the students that if they will only retain their native Scottish accent it will be worth a thousand a year to them any time in the City of London; for that accent stands in the City of London for integrity, reliability, character and trustworthiness.
My noble friend was good enough to say it did not apply to Scotland, but if you are to standardize English and make o us all talk like the B.B.C. announcers then you will have to apply the same drastic treatment to Scotland. May I also remind my noble friend of another case? He and I used to know, and know now, a very prominent trade union leader who could speak very good English indeed when he liked. He obtained a very high position in the life of his country. He deliberately retained his extremely pronounced Cockney accent. It was an asset to him with his men in his trade union, it was an asset to him in Parliament, and it was an asset to him in the City of London. May I also turn for a moment to what Lord Brabazon said about the Continental countries? There is a very distinct difference in the speech of the different provinces in France and in Germany. Hitler himself speaks the most atrocious German. I think Lord Brabazon knows enough German to be able to recognize that when he hears Hitler's voice on the wireless. But those who speak far better German than I do and have a very much better knowledge of the German language assure me it is exceptionally uncouth and uncultured, but that fact does not seem, unfortunately, to have prevented Hitler from attracting an immense following in that country.
May I take this further example, which I ask Lord Brabazon to think over? In happier days I used to be able to get down to Herefordshire for the purposes of sport and in the country districts there I found a very pronounced Hereford accent, more pronounced than the dialect you get in many parts of Yorkshire or Lancashire. I used to see a good deal there of a young public schoolboy, the son of a local squire. He used to accompany me a good deal on sporting occasions and I noticed that when he was talking to me he spoke in the sort of English that Lord Brabazon speaks or the Lord Chancellor speaks, but when he spoke to the local labourers, the labourers on his father's estate, and the village boys, he at once relapsed into the pronounced Hereford dialect. I have heard the same thing in Yorkshire. I have heard Yorkshire gentlemen speaking as they do at the universities, but, when talking to their country neighbours, relapsing into the Yorkshire dialect.
654 I would personally—and I believe I am speaking here for my Party—very much deplore any attempt artificially to destroy the provincial and local dialects in England, Scotland and Wales. They have a value of their own and I believe it would be very unfortunate if we forced the pace of standardization or uniformity. As it is, as Lord Brabazon has pointed out, we have been standardizing speech very rapidly in this country. In the last twenty years there has been an immense breaking down of class barriers, and the last three years has seen that process very much accelerated. If I might remind Lord Brabazon, during his youth and my youth, one could tell at a glance by the dress of a woman, particularly in the country, to what class of life she belonged. There was an immense difference when we were boys in the way the women of the labouring class, the farmers' wives and the squire's and clergyman's daughters dressed. You could almost tell at a glance from the way they dressed to which class they belonged.
To-day you cannot tell to what walk of life a woman belongs. The modern fashions, the cheap turnout of most of the modern clothing—and very attractive it is—is standardizing dress. The younger people are rapidly becoming standardized also in their speech and that applies to the men as well as to the girls. Do not force that tendency. If I may respectfully suggest this to the Lord Chancellor, I do hope your Lordships will not countenance this argument that a man is prevented in this country from achieving success because of his accent. I do not believe it for a moment. I do not believe it is the case in the Services. It certainly is not the case in the naval service in which I had the honour to serve for some years. There a man's accent has nothing whatever to do with his promotion. I do not believe it applies in business or industry to-day to any great extent. An artificial forcing will result in what Lord Brabazon himself referred to as "refained" English.
§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA
I must object. I said that the "refained" English was the worst type of all.
It is what you get if you try to get an imitation Oxford or public school accent. In your Lordships' House those of you who have a musical ear can hear in the course of a 655 long day's sitting many different accents. Most of us as a rule speak differently from one another. Lord Brabazon referred to two Ministers in this House who speak different varieties of English. I hope these variations will continue and that the English tongue will remain the variegated thing it is to-day.
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, my noble friend's intervention has prompted me to intervene when I had no intention of doing so. I want in one word to support my noble friend the mover of the Motion, and to say something which I hope will produce a reference from the Lord Chancellor who I understand is to reply to the Motion. I would like to support my noble friend in advocating a standard pronunciation of English. I think it would be a definite advantage, and I disagree with my noble friend opposite that it would be a deplorable result to achieve. The military aspect of this question has been mentioned. In this connexion I would like to point out—and in this respect I speak not of present knowledge of the Services but of my knowledge of the last war—how difficult it was to understand someone speaking English with a broad Lancashire or Yorkshire accent. I hesitate to make any reference to Scotland because we admire the Scottish accent. We have no reluctance in accepting the Scottish accent, but I noticed that one of the happy recipients in the New Year's Honours List said in reply to a toast to himself that, while he saw no evidence of shortage of paper in the congratulations he had received, one thing which caused some difficulty was a telegram in Gaelic. I do not know whether it is incumbent upon the Post Office to accept telegrams in Gaelic.
The point I want to make in supporting my noble friend is that there is an advantage to be attained by a standard phonetic pronunciation of English. We have all heard people say how fine is Mr. Roosevelt's voice and how easy it is to understand. Those who, like myself, have lived in the United States and travelled in that country know how different is the employment of English in Boston and in Chicago. I have two main points on which I would seek the comments of the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor. My noble friend referred to French. We know that in Alsace the 656 Mulhouse French is entirely different from the Tours French, and that in the Basque country again the accent is entirely different. Those of your Lordships who are familiar with French Canada will know also that the French employed there is very different from that used in France. The most expert speakers of French will find difficulty in understanding the language. One of the main complaints among the people of Quebec against the rest of Canada is that the people of Quebec do not get a square and fair deal in the matter of opportunity in the rest of Canada. That is because they do not speak English or, if they do speak English, do not speak good English. That is because they do not trouble to learn it properly at school.
Again, those who know Australia will know the different employment of English in different parts of that country. You may take members of the same family who have had the opportunity of a good education—not necessarily an expensive education—where the girls will speak English such as we believe to be good English and the boys will say "bison" for "basin." That is because it is the customary view among boys in Australia that it is affectation to talk real English. I hope the noble and learned Viscount will give encouragement to the belief that it is an advantage to speak good English, and that opportunities should be given to teach English phonetically, as it is generally believed to be most easily and most musically spoken.
§ LORD WEDGWOOD
My Lords, I hope that when the noble and learned Viscount speaks he will make it quite clear that this is not a matter of cash value—I do not believe the noble Lord regards it from that point of view—but that it is a question of mental psychology. If people have an inferior accent and like it by all means let them keep it. If people have a Somerset accent or a Scottish accent they had better keep it as long as they are proud of it. What we do want to stop is people being ashamed of their accents. What we want to avoid, and I am perfectly certain the noble Lord wants to avoid, is an inferiority complex. An inferiority complex does not destroy a man's learning capacity, but it does destroy his happiness in life. The question is how can we end it. Women and girls are much more susceptible and 657 acquire good manners and a good accent much more rapidly than boys. Girls who go to a higher education school become so enamoured of their teachers that they adopt their language, their ideas and their standards.
This is the most snobbish country in the world and snobbishness means being afraid of what somebody else is going to think of you. That leads to the inferiority complex, and if the noble Lord by waving a wand could make a change by which all would acquire an accent and standards of speech of which they were proud it would benefit the whole of the country. It would destroy a jealous frame of mind. How is it to be clone? You can do a certain amount by broadcasting, and it does not matter if broadcasting is done with an accent as long as it is not done with a vulgar accent. The difficulty is that to speak with a vulgar accent is still supposed in this country to be the quintessence of humour. You have only to go to see a British film to find a scene in which people are made to speak with an objectionable, vulgar and ridiculous accent which is supposed to be funny. If I were employed in a servants' hall I should want to throw things at the screen. It is a travesty of the servants' hall; and there are far too many English movies like that. If you go to see an American or a French film you will not see those funny public-house bar and servant hall scenes which you see on the English films. In America it is inconceivable that a person should be thought to be inferior because he does not speak with a Boston accent.
A great deal can be done by local education authorities, especially as nowadays most elementary school mistresses come front the professional classes and have the normal accent. They could do more in the case of the men. In the broadcasting they could do more, not by discouraging local accent, but by discouraging vulgar exploitation of it by humourists. Those responsible for the production of films could do much more by assisting to make people understand that vulgarity is not attractive, and by not travestying one class of people, particularly the servant class. They should realize that that sort of thing is the worst kind of bad form, and ought to be dropped altogether.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (The EARL of ONSLOW)
My Lords, there are only one or two words I wish to 658 add to what has been said in the course of this very interesting debate. I suppose that the real object of my noble friend's proposal is to ensure that the greatest number of people speak in a manner which the greatest number of people most easily understand. That I think is very desirable. I myself can remember when dialect was spoken in this country which has now practically dropped out. When I lived in Germany, I learnt German along with my noble friend Lord Cromer at Hanover, and of course we learnt to speak with a strong Hanoverian accent. Afterwards, when I went to Frankfurt, I was told that I knew a decent amount of German but that I spoke with such a horrible, vulgar, northern accent that nobody could possibly understand me. Now we were told in England that the Hanoverian accent was the finest accent in Germany, that it ranked like the Touraine accent in France. But in regard to this latter I must say that if you were to ask a Gascon whether they spoke good French in Touraine, his reply would probably be abusive.
So far as we are concerned with the matter now before us I feel sure that the object we have in view is to enable as many people as possible to speak English and to understand it with the least trouble to themselves. That, of course, is a problem which, in the first place, confronts the Board of Education. But my noble friend Lord Gainford pointed out quite correctly that the matter of the curriculum is not in the hands of the Board of Education but in the hands of the local education authorities. I have been connected for ten years with the Board of Eclucation, and I know the local education authorities very well for I served in the office for some time. I rather suggest that this problem, which at least requires examination, might well be referred to the Education Consultative Committee. That body was founded, I think, in 1899. It does not very often meet, but it has occasionally produced excellent reports. It is not functioning during the present war nor did it function during the last war. Its last report was on secondary education—a great fat volume—and was produced before the war. This, I say, is in my view just the sort of problem which that body might usefully consider, and I venture to suggest, in the most respectful manner to the noble and learned Viscount who sits on 659 the Woolsack, that possibly this is a suggestion which might be conveyed to his right honourable friend the President of the Board of Education.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT SIMON)
My Lords, in the few minutes that remain I should like to make one or two observations on the very interesting question which has been raised by my noble friend Lord Brabazon. As I understood him I did not think that he was making a plea for an attempt to abolish well-established local methods of speech. That I am sure would be an entirely hopeless task, and for my part I should not sympathize with it at all. I understood him rather to urge that everything should be done to secure in schools the abolition of slipshod, mumbling, poor forms of speech. Many of the dialects of speech in this country are the most vigorous in existence. They are outspoken and clear to a degree. As I say, I understand that to be implicit in my noble friend's main point. He is not using "phonetics" in the sense of the study of the sounds employed in human speech, represented by symbols which we see sometimes in the dictionary and which some of us find it rather difficult to interpret. When he did refer to the dictionary I almost hoped he was going to tell me what "phoney" means. I understood him to be urging the importance—and so far I very much agree with him—not of deliberately cultivating some nice standardized form of speech which takes away half the vitality of human conversation, but of avoiding slipshod, dogs' eared, down-trodden, mouthy, mumbling speech, which does not do credit either to the local dialect or anything else.
I do not entirely agree with my noble friend in some of his illustrations. I have long wanted to know what the Oxford accent was, and the illustration which he gave of it convinced me that the Oxford accent has no more to do with Oxford than the Oxford Group has. I think, too, if I may be allowed to say so, that my noble friend rather exaggerated what he called the speech barrier. I could not undertake to say whether he was justified in asserting that in the other languages of the world nothing of the sort ever happens. I am rather surprised at the statement, though. I should have thought that even in the United States of 660 America, a cultivated American did not have very great difficulty in detecting a man who came from a wholly different stratum or order of society. But be that as it may, I do not mind differences of dialect or accent as long as they do exhibit a real attachment to your native tongue as it exists where you live or in any great area to which you belong. What I object to is—and this I think is the business of the educationists—the undoubted prevalence of slipshod and ill-enunciated language. This has got to be got rid of, as I apprehend—and is being got rid of—by teaching and encouraging English reading and English recitation, and I think, especially in the younger schools, the production of English drama. All these are things which tend to make a man accurate in the use of what is the noblest tongue in the world.
Using my own judgment, I would not put the influence of the B.B.C. quite so high as my noble friend does. Certainly the announcers do most admirably. Their work must be a constant strain to them, and we are all greatly obliged to them. I thought that what my noble friend said about that was very well justified. I must admit, however, that my own experience is that when I turn on the wireless so as to be sure that I am not late for the news, I am sometimes compelled to listen to back-chat between performers who, I understand, are professionally known as "comics" in which the English tongue is debased almost beyond recognition. I do not quite understand why those who want to listen to the news should be sentenced to listen to this sort of thing just before. Similarly, as I think my noble friend hinted, sometimes when waiting for the news one has to endure noises produced, I suppose, by the human voice, which certainly are neither music nor even in tune. I am told that the technical name for these things is "hot rhythm." I cannot see why we should have to endure that either, and I think that there ought to be a close time for such things. But perhaps, after all, these excruciating disturbances are introduced in order that we may admire the more the admirable clearness and the high level of pronunciation of the veritable official announcers.
I wish to reinforce with two or three illustrations of my own the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I certainly think that a vast amount is 661 added to the value and vividness of human converse by certain varieties in speech, pronunciation, manner and tone, derived largely from the area from which people come. My noble friend who sits near me [Lord Gainford] and I have often listened to Mr. Asquith speaking in the House of Commons, and I often used to think that that fine scholar and most noble orator got an added power and aroused a further interest because, every now and then, you could hear quite clearly the Yorkshire burr which he had as a boy. Then there is the Father of the House of Commons, who has just been celebrating his eightieth birthday, and is greeted by all of us and by people all over the world wits warm congratulations. Anyone who heard Mr. Lloyd George speaking at his best knows that he owed not a little of his power to a characteristic Welsh note, a cadence and a thrill which you could hear even when he was speaking in English, and which you may gather best of all, perhaps, when listening to a Welsh choir singing "Land of my Fathers." If I may recall an experience at the Bar, the most powerful and effective advocate of my time, without any question, was Sir Edward Carson, and often he would make his most telling point by assuming, consciously or unconsciously, a little more of the Irish brogue that always underlay everything he said.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
And in the House as well. I do not presume to make such comments about a Scotsman, because I hardly think that the Scots would admit that the way in which the language is spoken north of the Tweed is a mere matter of dialect; but of course it is absolutely true, at least to us Southerners, that the penetrating force of many a Scotsman's argument, whether in persuasion or denunciation, is redoubled by the fact that he has command of the cadences and vowels of Robert Burns. Within the confines of England the same thing happens. Some of your Lordships probably know the story—I believe its veracious—of Lord Curzon, who, when he first entered that great room at the Foreign Office after his appointment as Foreign Secretary, rang the bell and pointed to his desk, on which there rested an inkpot. Lord Curzon said: "When Lord Salisbury 662 was Foreign Secretary, his inkstand was made of alabaster: what is this contraption of brass and glass?"—using these words as though they rhymed with "mass." I was born in Manchester and spent part of my youth in Bath, and so I know very well the difference between the quality of that "a" in the north and in the south, in many and many a word.
Some reference has been made to the language which they speak in the United States. I do not know whether many of your Lordships have had your attention called to a most admirable book drawn up by the War Department of America and called A Short Guide to Great Britain. It is only 32 pages and it is put in the hands, as I understand it, of every American soldier who is crossing to this side. It contains some most useful information, and on page 24 I find a passage headed: "English versus American Language." I will venture to read it to the House:Almost before you meet the people you will hear them speaking 'English.' At first you may not understand what they are talking about and they may not understand what you say. The accent will be different from what you are used to, and many of the words will be strange, or apparently wrongly used. But you will get used to it. Remember—and this has a bearing on those who think that the American language is the same all over that great continent—that back in Washington stenographers from the South are having a hard time to understand dictation given by business executives from New England, and the other way around.In England the 'upper crust' speak pretty much alike. You will hear the news broadcaster for the B.B.C. … He is a good example, because he has been trained to talk with the 'cultured' accent. He will drop the letter 'r' (as people do in some sections of our own country) and will say 'hyah' instead of 'here.' He will use the broad a pronouncing all the a's in 'banana' like the a in 'father.' However funny you may think this is, you will be able to understand people who talk this way and they will be able to understand you. And you will soon get over thinking it is funny.You will have more difficulty with some of the local dialects. It may comfort you to know that a farmer or villager from Cornwall very often can't understand a farmer or villager in Yorkshire or Lancashire. But you will learn—and they will learn to understand you.It seems to me that the whole of that book contains the very greatest wisdom and good sense.
I think, therefore, that what the matter comes to is this. I certainly do not want 663 to sec artificial efforts made to get rid of these undercurrents of difference in our English speech which prevail in different parts of the country. Your Lordships may know the remarkable fact in the history of our literature that Chaucer, who wrote in the dialect of East Midland English, really had the effect of making that form of speech prevail by degrees all over the country—not entirely, but to a very large extent. In the same way, unquestionably the diction and the grammar of the Authorized Version, and I would fain hope of Shakespeare, have enormously influenced us, and indeed have largely standardized modes of writing and speech. A very good example to take is Bunyan, a poor man, a tinker, with no pretension at all to come from what people call the "upper classes," but you cannot find a purer piece of English than Bunyan wrote in his many books, and he had no one to help him, because he wrote most of them while he was in prison.
Our plea is, therefore, that the children's speech should be looked after in the schools, because, after all, every child in an English school is learning English all the time, and if he is not learning good English, he is learning bad English. I think the right view is that the schools must be in warm sympathy with family and local life; they must never dream of despising or denouncing genuine local habits or manners or modes of speech. You must not condemn the native speech of the child as though it was open to rebuke; if you do, you will only drive the child into silence. But at the same time the positive function of the school is, first of all, to use its influence to get rid of and to discourage mere mumbling—slipshod, downtrodden language; and, while respecting the traditions of the part of the country from which the child comes, and certainly holding no shame of it, the schools should, so far as may be, help to equip the child for something which can be used, and will be used, as a standard currency.
I do not at all agree with the noble Lord if he thinks that anybody who goes to an elementary school in this country is a person who talks bad English. Nobody who has been to a school prize-giving could ever think anything of the kind. There are thousands of the poorer children in every part of England who speak good English, and they ought 664 to be encouraged to do so. But I do think it is one of the functions of a well-devised system of education to press the appreciation of this magnificent tongue of ours by reading aloud, by recitation of the passages that children are really interested in—and there are plenty of them—by the learning of poetry, which you can do more easily in your early years than you can perhaps when you are older, and by everything that tends to raise the breadth and the purity of the method of communication, without being standardized or formal or moulded according to a very special pattern. Having read, as my noble friend has, this book about the teaching of English, which is a Board of Education publication, and having informed myself for the purposes of this debate about some of the work that is being done, I really have no doubt at all that that is the object which is set before the schools of this country by the Board of Education and, what is very important, by the inspectors of the Board. Many of their reports show it quite clearly.
After all, education in English is for all Englishmen a matter of the most vital concern. Dogberry, you may remember, says somewhere: "To read and write comes by nature." Well, it does not. And, while for my part I would utterly scorn and repudiate a method of instruction which attempts to belittle that which is genuine and traditional and sincere, and of the family and of the tribe, here we have this flexible instrument which is destined to spread yet further over the world, and our people should use it worthily. In many ways the history of England gave English a bad start for international purposes. There was a very long period, of course, when the polite and the learned in this country talked Norman-French. If anybody wishes to see to what depths of absurdity that method ultimately descended he needs only to look at some of the black-letter books of the Law, in which half the words are bad French and the rest of the words English. Then there was a long period when Latin was the language of diplomacy and for international communication. Milton spoke and wrote it as easily as English. It was the diplomatic medium. It was the language, too, in which Sir Robert Walpole, finding that George I could not speak any English, communicated with his Sovereign. English, therefore, has 665 had rather a chequered career, but it has come forward in the last centuries, not only because of our great models, such as Shakespeare and the Bible, but because of its intrinsic merits.
There was a very interesting article I read the other day pointing out how the English grammatical forms were able more precisely and flexibly to state what is wanted than any modern language—any language, I should think, except ancient Greek. French was once regarded as the language of diplomacy. I do not think it will survive in that character. You used to hear three-quarters of the speeches at Geneva delivered in French—not always good French—but I do not think that will be so in future. I think our vernacular tongue, spreading over the world, has a priceless opportunity. I wish very much that we could get out of the way of imagining there was something called "commercial English," which consists in saying: "Your esteemed favour of the 6th ult." and so on. That is no use to anybody. But the Board of Education are extremely alive to the importance of this subject, and are dealing with it in the sympathetic way which some noble Lords have referred to. My noble friend has raised a very interesting question, and I thank him—I do not say I am much obliged to him—for his speech.
§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA
My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion. I do not apologize to your Lordships for having introduced it, because it was through that that we had the most entertaining speech of the Lord Chancellor.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.