By Helena Lopes
10 May 2008
Speech and Class Distinction
Most British accept and even enjoy the distinctions of social class. They love hierarchy. This is very clear in the question of speech. The way English is spoken gives away the regional identity, as well as, the class status too. What is so curious and different about this is that class is not judged upon wealth and very little on occupation, like in other countries, such as in the U.S.A. and even in Portugal. Instead, class is determined mostly by non-economic factors such as speech, manner and taste. So, theoretically it is possible to turn a street kid into an upper class adult through education and training, as was done in “My Fair Lady”, and not only in the cinema, the linguist George Bernard Shaw made some experiments with real people to prove this theory. But basically, one cannot talk without revealing his /her social class.
The two most relevant factors in the class calculation are: the words you use and how you pronounce them. Beginning with pronunciation, those at the top of the social scale claim that their way of speaking is the correct way, while lower class speech is incorrect and lazy. The lower class fails to pronounce the consonants, especially t’s and h’s, so “kettle” will sound like “ke’le”. The upper class does exactly the opposite, they drop their vowels. So, while a handkerchief in working class speech will be pronounced “ankercheef” the upper class will pronounce it “hnkrchf”. Between the two which is worse? Upper class might sound extremely smart but it sounds more like SMS-speak. The only advantage is that one is able to talk without moving their mouth very much and that is always convenient in upper class, be it English or Portuguese, as it allows a stiff upper lip. Generally, the upper class also omits pronouns, articles and conjunctions whenever possible, sort of telegram language.
Despite all the peculiarities, the upper class remains convinced that their...