Feeds

The Ziff-Davis Guide To Britishers (and other foreigners)

The Glottal Stops Here

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Book Club The mighty Ziff-Davis publishing empire has chalked up many triumphs over the years, but one masterpiece from 1943 has been sadly neglected.

It's the Manual of Foreign Dialects for Radio, Stage and Screen, by Lewis Herman and Maguerite Shalett Herman, published in Chicago.

As the title suggests, it's a manual for speaking English in a foreign accent. Think Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. He clearly hadn't take notice of Herman and Herman, and cinema history would have been different, and we'd have been spared if a generation of bit-part actors playing to national stereotypes, while they gurn away in comedy accents, if this fine manual had been heeded.

"When all of the elements have been learned progressively, the result should be finished and authentic dialect," write the authors.

But the guide also schools the thesp with a broad and balanced view of the world, too. Many of the dialects have heart-warming descriptions of the national character, to better give the student a feel for the nation's rich heritage and temperament. We offer a selection below, with a simple pronunciation test taken directly from the manual:-

The Britisher

The British: dressing for dinner

"The widely acceptable prototype Britisher has a stolidity, for instance, that makes for heavy almost humorless, humor"

Humorless humor? How true. "He cannot appreciate the humor in others, nor the humor in himself".

Your Brit is honourable, but basically useless: "he has an eye for business, but will not debase his honor to achieve it." However the British display great fortitude in times of crisis, which Herman and Herman attribute to "the tradition of dressing for dinner no matter what".

"A great many Englishmen suffer from stammering," the authors observe, and helpfully include a section on how to stammer correctly in British.

And remember: to attract an Englishman's attention, the equivalent of the American "Hey" is "I say!", pronounced AHi-sEH-EE!.

The Italians

"The word 'Italian' brings to many minds the picture of an olive-skinned person with flashing black eyes, a dramatic talent for gesticulation, a fiery temper and warm, full lips that are always open in song - Verdi's songs," say the Hermans.

Is the picture true?

"Generally speaking," the authors tell us. But in the North, they observe, Italians are fairer-haired and "observe more self control." Fortunately, though, like the Southern Italians, the Northerners' lips also are "always open in song - Verdi's songs".

Pronounce this: Signorelli has a fine bambino
Like this: Eezuh fILnuh bAH:mbEEnAW sEEnyAWrAYlEE gAW:duh

The Scottish

Generously, the stereotypical meanness attributed to the Scots is much maligned and false, reckon the Hermans.

On the other hand, "to satisfy the Scotsman: give him a pipeful of plug cut, a bottle of Scotch whisky, a bowl of oatmeal porridge in the morning, a haggis pudding at Christmas, the skirling of the bagpipes on all occasions - and he's a contented man."

Nothing wrong with that at all, agrees Reg editor John Lettice.

Pronounce: Taskmaster; Oatmeal; Stomach Ache
Like this: tOs'mOSthuhr, AW/mi:l, stoomah/EHi/

The Germans

The Germans:

"To synthesize the German character," note our heroic authors, "it can be said that he approximates the Russian or Polish peasant except that he has been damned with a brain."

"He reveres, almost to idolatory, the use of honorary titles: 'Herr Dockor Direktor General Schultz', where we would say simply, 'Mr Shultz'". But underneath though, he's a softy. Or as they put it: "he is actually a sentimental weakling and will weep tears into his wurtzburger brau at the strains of a waltz." Unlike most (but as we'll see, not all) of their quick-witted European neighbours, or Americans, the German is "slow to thought, slow to action and slow to speech." The authors blame "an inbred inferiority complex".

Hegel causes the authors a dilemma, but they conclude that this "abstruse thinker" is a representative German after all. It's logic, but logic that's "practically unintelligible".

Pronounce: (No.10 [p.183]): They were going to the concentration camp
Like this: dtOO dtUH gkAWnsEHndtrAY:shUHn gkEHmbp dtAY: vfAWs gkOH:ingk

The 'Pert and Nimble' Cockney

Never confuse a Cockney with a Britisher. But who or what is a Cockney?

"Technically, anyone living in London," they advise. "He's a brash little fellow ... an inveterate heckler." You can spot a Cockney by his nasalized speech, "possibly because of the adenoid trouble which is quite prevalent in the British Isles." The plucky chap is "a funny little fellow", cheery in adversity, but when he's bad, "he's a rat".

Sample phrase: Take the blooming horse home
Pronounced: tI:k Thuh bliOOminAW sAOWm

The Pole

Being allies in 1943, when this masterpiece was published, doesn't help the Poles much.
In fact, the Pole is "slow to thought, slow to speech and slow to action". Sound familiar? His speech is "heavy, slow and hesitant... it oozes out heavily, stolidly - like viscous oil instead of bubbling spring water."

Poles are "stolid and unimaginative", and the women "bovine", so the speech must reflect the character and appearance, they wisely tell us.

Rather rashly however, the test phrases they offer include one that could cause a food riot:-

Sample phrase: There are four sandwiches in your box
Pronounced: is fAWr sOnvwitch in bAWks

A Gottle of Gear, awaiting inflexions


Awaiting inflexion: A Glottal

The French

On the whole the French are likeable.

But beware: the French hate the high-life and luxury, warn the authors. Life in France is "frugal to the nth degree" and the typical Frenchman so mean, that his "penny-penching would shame even the proverbially 'tight' Scotsman." But the literature is witty and frivolous, he's a frank Franc, and even the French criminal "is more intelligent than the average".

Sample Phrase: Is my hat fashionable?
Pronounced: mI'AHT, EE zEEt shEEk?

The Swedes

Wouldn't you know it? It's the place of "Smorgasbord and the Midnight Sun"!

But the Swedes have the authors in a giddy swoon. Maybe it's their "gay spirit"? Their "light heartedness"? Or their "bubbling sense of humour"? Who knows, but "they're very likeable", exhibiting none of their neighbours' "dour Norwegian moodiness". Maybe it's because that's why the Swedes are neat, industrious, and the most intelligent and progressive people in Europe.

Well done!

Sample Phrase: John is as cross as a bear
Pronounced: yAW:n A:r sOH: krO: s Il:k AH bA:

Now Talk Proper

View from the Labs

And so it goes through, Yiddish, Beche le Mar and Pidgin and a dozen other dialects. But there's no place for the Welsh - because as every American knows it's part of England. (It must be, because we're always being told Alan Cox "lives in England", see). And the Finns and Hungarians get half a page each.

As Charles Laughton's voice coach Garson Kanin writes in the foreword to the Manual: "Superficial theatrical clichés must be abruptly discarded - too often they tend to ridicule than represent."

Indeed, and there's no danger of that here. We'd like to post more excerpts, but with the international political situation so delicate right now, it could tip us over the brink.®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Facebook's Zuckerberg in EBOLA VIRUS FIGHT: Billionaire battles bug
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contacted as site supremo coughs up
Space exploration is just so lame. NEW APPS are mankind's future
We feel obliged to point out the headline statement is total, utter cobblers
Down-under record: Australian gets $140k for pussy
'Tiffany' closes deal - 'it's more common to offer your wife', says agent
Internet finally ready to replace answering machine cassette tape
It's a simple message and I'm leaving out the whistles and bells
Win a year’s supply of chocolate (no tech knowledge required)
Over £200 worth of the good stuff up for grabs
FedEx helps deliver THOUSANDS of spam messages DIRECT to its Blighty customers
Don't worry Wilson, I'll do all the paddling. You just hang on
Swiss wildlife park serves up furry residents to visitors
'It's ecological' says spokesman, now how would you like your Bambi done?
The iPAD launch BEFORE it happened: SPECULATIVE GUFF ahead of actual event
Nerve-shattering run-up to the pre-planned known event
STONER SHEEP get the MUNCHIES after feasting on £4k worth of cannabis plants
Baaaaaa! Fanny's Farm's woolly flock is high, maaaaaan
Red Bull does NOT give you wings, $13.5m lawsuit says so
Website letting consumers claim $10 cash back crashes after stampede
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.