2003 October 29 Wednesday
Theodore Dalrymple On The Embrace Of Lower Class Accents

Theodore Dalrymple reports on a growing phenomenon in Britain where middle and upper class people try to sound lower class in order to sound less elitist.

Not long ago I read the obituary of a pop singer the only good pop singer being a dead pop singer who was reported to have come from a middle-class family, but who was so incensed by what he thought was the false gentility of his school that he forever afterwards adopted a South London accent.

This is a modern curiosity, indeed, to adopt in the name of authenticity an accent that is not naturally yours, and that must be learnt and rehearsed. Elocution lessons today are designed to disguise an embarrassingly superior social origin.

None of this would matter very much after all, only a fool would discount what someone said solely because of the accent in which he said it, or recognise that cultivation in speech is much more than a matter of accent if it were not of a piece with other manifestations of the very marked downward cultural aspiration in this country. I have noticed, for example, that so great is the bullying ideological pressure on the young to manifest a thoroughly plebeian taste that even highly intelligent students feel constrained to distract themselves in exactly the same way as the semi-literates of their own age. Cultural refinement is suspect precisely because it is by nature elitist; almost no one makes the important distinction between elitism and social exclusivity, which are by no means the same. The one is made to stand for the other.

Dalrymple sees this as egalitarianism taken to harmful excess.

The attack on received pronunciation is only a particular instance of the relativist notion that there is no higher and lower, no better and worse, no correct and incorrect, and therefore nothing to aim at or aspire to.

Attempts to eliminate hierarchies cut against human nature. People arrange themselves into hierarchies every bit as naturally as do packs of wolves. The biggest damage comes when the process of judging and treating people as different - whether in abilities, moral beliefs, religious beliefs, ideological beliefs, conduct, or character - is blocked from operating. When drug dealers and toughs can't be thrown out of public housing or unruly students can't be removed from classes or applicants for positions can not be tested in the most efficient and accurate ways possible society functions less well. When some people make choices in life that impose more or less of a burden on others if that can not be pointed out then we can not encourage the best sorts of behavior and again society as a whole is worse off.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 October 29 11:55 AM  Civilizations Decay

Steve Sailer said at October 29, 2003 2:33 PM:

I imagine Dalrymple is thinking of Joe Strummer of the Clash, who was a public school boy but stopped brushing his teeth as a teenager so he'd develop dental problems that would help him sound like Liza Doolittle's dad.

One factor is that lower class styles are seen as more masculine than upper class styles.

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