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Dictating to the MobThe History of the BBC Advisory Committee on Spoken English$

Jürg R. Schwyter

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198736738

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198736738.001.0001

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(p.224) Appendix II Minutes of the Reconstituted Advisory Committee on Spoken English, 20 September 1934

(p.224) Appendix II Minutes of the Reconstituted Advisory Committee on Spoken English, 20 September 1934

Dictating to the Mob

Jürg R. Schwyter

Oxford University Press

Parts of the First Meeting of the reconstituted Advisory Committee on Spoken English, 20 September 1934, include an Introductory by Colonel Dawnay (a), the Standing Orders (b), and, in Enclosure A, the history of the Advisory Committee on Spoken English by Lloyd James (c) (BBC Advisory Committee on Spoken English Minutes, Minutes; R6 / 201 / 2):

(a) Introductory

Colonel Dawnay, speaking on behalf of the Director-General, who was out of the country, welcomed the new members, outlining briefly the early history of the committee, and explaining the reasons that had led to the Corporation in 1934 to review the constitution and future procedure of the committee. The Corporation had decided that in view of the varied nature of the work involved, calling as it did for a very wide body of expert opinion, the original committee should be considerably expanded; that for members, academic experts of acknowledged standing in linguistic science, should be called Consultant Members; and that the Corporation should in future submit all words in the first instance to the Consultant Members. These members would prepare a report, having in mind the relevant considerations concerning past and present usage, making recommendations as to (p.225) pronunciations to be adopted for the purposes of broadcasting. The Corporation would then submit this report to the full committee, asking them to make such recommendations as they thought fit.

The following had been invited by the B.B.C. to act as Consultant Members: Professor H. C. K. Wyld, Professor Daniel Jones, Professor Lloyd James and Mr. Harold Orton.

Colonel Dawnay expressed the sense of the Corporation’s appreciation of the great services rendered by the Committee, and especially of their indebtedness to Mr. Bernard Shaw for acting as Chairman. He stated that Mr. Shaw had felt it his duty, upon the reconstruction of the committee, to offer to resign from the Chair, but that he had consented meanwhile to act as Chairman on consideration that a definite term should be set to the period for which he, or any subsequent Chairman, should hold office.

Mr. Bernard Shaw said that he was prepared to continue in office provided that the committee would agree to the inclusion in the standing orders of the provision that the chair should go to election after four meetings, the retiring Chairman being eligible for re-election once only.

(b) Standing orders

  1. 1. The Committee shall consist of a number of persons representative of many aspects of intellectual and artistic activity, together with certain consultant members who are recognised academic experts in phonetics, and one representative of each of the following associations:—

    1. 1) The British Academy

    2. 2) The Royal Society of Literature

    3. 3) The English Association

    4. 4) The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

  2. 2. The Committee shall meet not less than twice per annum, and a quorum shall consist of not less than seven members.

  3. (p.226) 3. The Chair shall go to election after four meetings, the retiring Chairman being eligible for re-election once only.

  4. 4. The Honorary Secretary of the Committee shall be one of the consultant members.

  5. 5. The Honorary Secretary shall have the assistance of an Assistant Secretary, who shall be an employee of the B.B.C., responsible, on the one hand to the Committee through the Honorary Secretary, and on the other hand to the B.B.C., for all executive work arising from the Committee.

  6. 6. Certain members of the B.B.C. staff shall have the right to attend meetings of the Committee and to take part in discussions, but shall have no power to vote in divisions.

  7. 7. The B.B.C. shall submit the words to be discussed in the first instance to the consultant members, asking them to report as expert phoneticians on the pronunciation of each word. This report shall take past and present usage into consideration and may admit of accepted alternative pronunciations.

  8. 8. The B.B.C. shall submit the consultant members’ report to the full Committee, which shall consider the pronunciations recommended therein in relation to broadcasting, and shall make recommendations as to the pronunciations to be adopted by the announcers of the Corporation.

  9. 9. Pronunciations recommended by the full Committee shall be published provisionally in the Press.

  10. 10. Such recommendations shall from time to time be revised in the light of correspondence or further evidence regarding modern usage.

  11. 11. The Committee shall authorise publication of booklets and reports dealing with all matters of pronunciation.

  12. 12. The B.B.C. shall reserve the right to exercise its discretion as to adopting the recommendations of the Committee.

  13. 13. Members of the Committee shall have the right to bring forward work for discussion or to make any proposals relevant to the function of the Committee. (p.227)

(c) Enclosure A—Statement by Professor A. Lloyd James, Hon. Sec.

The history of the B.B.C. Advisory Committee on Spoken English is given in very brief outline in the Forewords to the three editions of Broadcast English I.

It may be desirable, at this stage of the Committee’s history, to re-state briefly some of the general principles laid down in the early days, mainly under the guidance of Mr. Bridges, the first chairman.

At its first meeting in July, 1926, it was decided that recommendations should be in three classes—

  1. (1) Place Names

  2. (2) Words that had not yet been encountered what Bridges called ‘speech rub’ (literary words, etc.)

  3. (3) Words in common speech use.

It was decided that the Place Names required separate consideration; and that, with regard to the other two classes of words, it was advisable that the announcers should all be required to use a uniform pronunciation. The pronunciations recommended were to pay due regard to derivation and traditional usage.

The question of publishing alternative pronunciations was discussed at length in the early days, and it was generally agreed that nothing would be gained by so doing. It was pointed out that the dictionaries gave the alternatives, and that the function of the Committee was to advise the B.B.C. as to which alternative was to be preferred for the specific purpose of broadcasting.…

The question of representing pronunciation in print was considered, and it was decided to use the modified spelling system, with diacritical marks.

(p.228) The Committee’s recommendations were to be published under two heads:—

  1. (i) Those definitely recommended for use by announcers.

  2. (ii) Those only suggested, to be reviewed after the publication in the Press, and after further evidence concerning usage.

It was agreed that Latin words were to be pronounced according to the principles laid down by the Classical Association, except in the case of the long-established English pronunciations used in the Law Courts, etc.

Foreign place names were to be pronounced as far as possible according to the lists of the Royal Geographical Society.

At all meetings, the leading English and American dictionaries were consulted, every member being provided beforehand with the pronunciations recorded in all these dictionaries.

It has not proved expedient to act in accordance with all these principles, and there have been modifications. Southern announcers cannot treat the r sound in the Northern manner, and very few English born speakers give to the unaccented vowels the flavour that Mr. Bridges recommended. But the B.B.C. very definitely concerns itself with checking ultra-modern tendencies in the language, and in carrying out the injunctions of the Committee with regard to the so-called ‘purity’ of English vowels.

The early recommendation to record pronunciations only in the modified spelling system proved unsatisfactory, and a strictly phonetic pronunciation (using the International Phonetic Alphabet) was adopted in addition. This was first used in Broadcast English II.

In 1930 the suggestion was made that certain eminent scholars and artists should be invited to act as Honorary Advisers with regard to words coming within the special sphere of their practice. This suggestion was adopted, but never put into practice.

(p.229) In 1933 tentative steps were taken to set up cooperation with the U.S.A. and correspondence with two American scholars has taken place. The suggestion that corresponding committees in the Dominions would serve a useful purpose was made, but no action has been taken.

In 1934 the Committee was reconstituted as explained in the preface to the third edition of Broadcast English I.

This brief memorandum may serve to bring before the new members of the Committee some of the general considerations discussed in the early days. It need not in any way be regarded as a list of principles to be followed in the future. The committee dealing with questions of English pronunciation is an innovation in the history of our language, and consequently it has no precedents to guide it. The difference between such a Committee and a dictionary is hard to define. Possibly the only truth that has emerged in the course of the last ten years of broadcasting is that the dictionary is not enough.