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Exercise 8

What does the author think are the personal and social effects of this kind of speech-training?

Teaching speech

At the roots of much of our cultural thinking is our actual experience of speech. In Britain the question of good speech is deeply confused, and is in itself a major source of many of the divisions in our culture. It is inevitable, in modern society, that our regional speech-forms should move closer to each other, and that many extreme forms should disappear. But this should be a natural process, as people move and travel and meet more freely, and as they hear different speakers in films, television, and broadcasting. The mistake is to assume that there is already a ‘correct’ form of modern English speech, which can serve as a standard to condemn all others. In fact ‘public-school English’, in the form in which many have tried to fix it, cannot now become a common speech-form in the country as a whole: both because of the social distinctions now associated with its use, and because of the powerful influence of American speech-forms. Yet many good forms of modified regional speech are in practice emerging and extending. The barriers imposed by dialect are reduced, in these forms, without the artificiality of imitating a form remote from most people’s natural speaking. This is the path of growth. Yet in much speech training, in schools, we go on assuming that there is already one ‘correct’ form over the country as a whole. Thousands of us are made to listen to our natural speaking with the implication from tile beginning that it is wrong. This sets up such deep tensions, such active feelings of shame and resentment, that it should be no surprise that we cannot discuss culture in Britain without at once encountering tensions and prejudices deriving from this situation. If we experience speech training as an aspect of our social inferiority, a fundamental cultural division gets built in, very near the powerful emotions of self-respect, family affection, and local loyalty. This does not mean that we should stop speech training. But we shall not get near a common culture in Britain unless we make it a real social process - listening to ourselves and to others with no prior assumption of correctness - rather than the process of imitating a social class which is remote from most of us, leaving us stranded at the end with the ‘two-language’ problem. Nothing is more urgent than to get rid of this arbitrary association between general excellence and the habits of a limited social group. It is not only that there is much that is good elsewhere. It is also that, if you associate the idea of quality with the idea of class, you may find both rejected as people increasingly refuse to feel inferior on arbitrary social grounds.

(From Communications by Raymond Williams)

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