HISTORY OF THE BBC PRONUNCIATION UNIT.

The excellent blog Linguism presents an interesting reminiscence about the BBC Pronunciation Unit, which started out in 1926 as the Advisory Committee on Spoken English (with Robert Bridges as Chairman and George Bernard Shaw as Deputy Chairman!); the whole thing is interesting, but this passage particularly struck me:

The Committee was suspended at the outbreak of the Second World War, and replaced (originally ‘for the duration’, but so far the War has apparently not ended!) by the Pronunciation Unit, staffed by two Scottish maiden ladies: G.M.(‘Elizabeth’) Miller, and Elspeth Anderson (‘Andy’), and a clerk. Despite an increasing workload – more radio and TV networks, more daily hours of broadcasting – this remained the entire staff until 1957, when a third linguist was appointed. I never met either Elizabeth or Andy, but their influence was still felt when I joined the Unit in 1979, when I succeeded yet another Scot, Mrs Hazel Wright, as head of the Unit, with the title Pronunciation Adviser. One of Elizabeth’s last successes was the publication by OUP of the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names (1971), and I was the editor of the second edition which came out in 1983 (paperback 1990). This is now out of print, and neither the BBC nor OUP seems interested in a third edition, which I feel is a shame, as there is no equivalent available.

The 1971 edition of the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names is one of my treasured and much-consulted reference works, and I am both delighted to know that “G.M. Miller” was known as Elizabeth and saddened to learn that there will be no new edition.

Comments

  1. IIRC, Shaw was pushing the American pronunciation of “canine” (cay-nine) as applied to teeth, until it was discovered that he had an American dentist!

  2. And thus I discover, upon consulting my Daniel Jones, that in the UK they say CAN-ine (first syllable like the word can) when talking about teeth. You learn something every day.

  3. Graham Asher says:

    Daniel Jones is long dead… (RIP). I have never in my life heard an English (or Scottish, Welsh, Irish, or Manx) person pronounce ‘canine’ with the first syllable like ‘can’. The Shorter OED gives both, but gives the ‘cane’ pronunciation first.

  4. My dentist says CAN-ine, but everyone else says CANE-ine (Britain).

  5. “Pronuciation Unit”–sounds ready for spoofdom.

  6. Christophe.Strobbe says:

    “Pronunciation Unit”: not to be confused with “unit of pronunciation” ;-)

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