I had an unfortunate experience this week. It is one that I believe many of you will have shared. I phoned a call centre in London.
The young lady who dealt with my mundane banking inquiry had trouble understanding what I was saying. I don’t think I have an overly strong Scottish accent, but would have to admit I pronounce the R in words (the linguistic term for this is “rhotic”).
The call centre lass, it may perhaps have been her first day in the job, didn’t seem to have ever encountered anyone with my rhotic tendencies in the entire 16 years of her life. Our problem was the number four. She said, “Do you mean “foh”? (that’s how she pronounced it, although the oh sound was lengthened). “Aye, I said. Foh-err”.
She again asked “Foh-oh”? Making the word even longer and talking slowly as she had assumed I might have trouble counting all the way to four. “Aye”, I replied once more. And just so she fully understood I rolled the R with an extravagant flourish worthy of Sir Harry Lauder himself: “Foh-errr”.
Just to add devilment (I have to enliven the long lockdown days somehow) I helpfully added: “Foh-err, as in foh-err legs o’ a dunkey”.
This didn’t seem to help matters much.
I was polite, I was cheerful, but no force on Earth could have made me give up my pronunciation of a simple number in favour of hers. Why should I? Eventually, she fetched her supervisor and we managed to sort out the problem. The vexing thing was, even the supervisor regarded me as the fool in this exchange. A Scotch geezah oo cootn’t speak propah.
As stated, my accent isn’t strong. This youngster would have had deeper difficulties with other accents. I can only chuckle to think how she’d cope with broad Doric.
It is a terminological happenstance (with its roots in the Angles migrating over the North Sea) that the words England and English begin with the same letters. English, as a spoken and written language, belongs equally to everyone on these islands.
And perhaps I do over-roll Rs. But I’m far from the only person with pronunciation foibles. Could I ask you to write, phonetically, the way Danny Dyer (another Londoner) says the name of his light entertainment TV show The Wall? It might be wa-ooh. Or wah-ow. Or perhaps just simply wow.
It isn’t anything like the way I’d say wall. As further evidence, I’d like the words nuffink (nothing), draw-rer (drawer), foughts (thoughts), and wevvah (weather) to be taken into account.
Indeed, I’d claim that a Scottish accent does a better job of spoken English than an English accent. It shouldn’t be me who has to change the way I speak to be understood, I’m the one sounding out syllables, consonants and vowels in the more accurate fashion.
Word of the week
That which cannot be refuted or disproved. EG: “It is an irrefragable fact that there is an R in the word four”.
Read the latest Oh my word! every Saturday in The Courier. Contact me at email@example.com