Pedants r Us
What on earth is going on? Is it all over, after all? Have the barbarians claimed victory?
First: Sir Roger listens to ABC Radio A LOT. One evening, or early morning, he was listening to an interview with an author by a respected ABC presenter. Now, you would think that a bookish person might be a, little…erudite, you know. Just a little. And the presenter expressed her feeling about a particular passage or idea in this book. She described it as POIG-NANT. This, of course, is incorrect. Simply incorrect. The correct anglicised pronunciation is POIN-YANT. So what, you might say. The thing is that if the presenter gets something as simple as that wrong, on what grounds can you respect anything else she says? It would be okay for Joe the Baker or the medical technologist or whatever, but the presenter is in her position because she is somewhat learned and something of an expert. Who is the ABC employing these days? What standards are they accepting?
Secondly, and more jarringly: Hindsight last Sunday was the NSW History Council Lecture. The speaker was Professor Joy Damousi, Professor of History at the University of Melbourne. This is someone who certainly effects to be knowledgeable and whose job description when she applied would have included a requirement for erudition at a very high level.
Prof. Damousi was talking about elocution, the development of Australian speech and the influence on the Australian accent of reading aloud.
One of the favourite things to read aloud, she opined, was Longfellow’s “Hiathawa”. Yes. High-ATH-awa. You won’t find many results for that in Google. You will, though, find many results for “Hiawatha”, a poem from which Sir Roger’s father used to recite sections from memory. If Prof Damousi had ever read “Hiawatha” she would never have been able to pronounce the word the way she did. It just doesn’t scan. The stresses are the wong syllables. So she, an academic, referenced a literary work of which she appears to be actually ignorant. She referred to GBS’s famous play “Pygnaliom“. And she referred to the “candescence” of someone’s voice. Should it perhaps have been the “cadence”? Or “traits”: is it trates or trays? We know what we think. Perhaps she was just really nervous, not used as a lecturer, previously, to standing up in a large room in front of hundreds of people. If this is typical of her academic standards – and she would have been at her best for a seriously formal lecture being broadcast by the ABC – and if this is the standard of a top-level academic at one of the two most respected Australian universities, what hope is there? (We have to say that we have searched the lecture online a number of times since to locate the exact point where Damousi said :”Hiathawa”, without success. We have no doubt personally that we didn’t make it up and wonder whether it has been edited out. However, if we imagined it, we apologise. We didn’t make up “candescence” and “Pygnaliom”, though.)
[excerpt from Hiawatha]
Homeward now went Hiawatha;
Pleasant was the landscape round him,
Pleasant was the air above him,
For the bitterness of anger
Had departed wholly from him,
From his brain the thought of vengeance,
From his heart the burning fever.
Only once his pace he slackened,
Only once he paused or halted,
Paused to purchase heads of arrows
Of the ancient Arrow-maker,
In the land of the Dacotahs,
Where the Falls of Minnehaha
Flash and gleam among the oak-trees,
Laugh and leap into the valley.
There the ancient Arrow-maker
Made his arrow-heads of sandstone,
Arrow-heads of chalcedony,
Arrow-heads of flint and jasper,
Smoothed and sharpened at the edges,
Hard and polished, keen and costly.
With him dwelt his dark-eyed daughter,
Wayward as the Minnehaha,
With her moods of shade and sunshine,
Eyes that smiled and frowned alternate,
Feet as rapid as the river,
Tresses flowing like the water,
And as musical a laughter:
And he named her from the river,
From the water-fall he named her,
Minnehaha, Laughing Water.
[tags]english, australian, language, education, elocution, accent, oratory, history, university, Hiawatha, Longfellow, Australian English values, Australian English, education values[/tags]