It seems that the starting point in the recent debate about accent has been lost on Ian Johnstone (Letters, 13 March).
David Roche started off by criticising “the grotesque vowels of the English ruling class”, which, if I may say so, is pretty obviously a political point and one which implies that anyone whose accent is like Malcolm Rifkind’s shows some sign of bending the knee to those he perceives to be our rulers.
Anyone who had any experience of political, academic or commercial life in the present, cosmopolitan UK would realise that this is a grotesque misrepresentation of reality.
Perhaps, as a useful parallel, I could point both of these contributors in the direction of Gore Vidal’s novel, 1876, in which the narrator returns to the US after 40 years away and notices how different people’s speech sounds.
This can be experienced by listening to recordings by Thomas Edison of many Americans who were adults during the American Civil War, whose speech is remarkably British-sounding. Those born later were influenced greatly by the huge Irish immigration after the potato famine, creating the accent we now recognise as “Standard American”.
Standards in my youth were rigid in what was and what was not “acceptable” speech. The standard accent was that favoured by the BBC, under the iron rule of the indubitably Scots Lord Reith that disseminated the BBC/RP/Oxford English accent which they so abhor (and which I have). An RP accent is no indication of nationality, as visitors to Edinburgh’s New Town and Morningside will discover for themselves.
Andrew HN Gray