What to do with non-BBC Accents

Michael Moorcock poses as a left-winger. But a lot of his attitudes are horribly old-fashioned and snobbish. In his various books he shows that he admire aristocrats – particularly sleazy and selfish aristocrats.

He also sneers at “the lower orders”, in a way that does not square with his claim to be a left-wing anarchist. Thus in Byzantium Endures, he has the following:

“I whispered in English to Mrs Cornelius. “why do they shoot them so mercilessly?”…She said seriously “They’re bloody shit-scared, Ivan. Leo an’ the ovvers…They carn’t get ther stopper back in…” She screamed with laughter all of a sudden. “Pore buggers!”…..

“She sighed. “Well, it woz fun while it lasted….”.

(Byzantium Endures. Fontana Paperbacks 1982. P285-286.)

In a book that poses as Moorcock’s rendering of a multilingual journal by a Russian exile, why is it only the speech of a Cockney woman than is rendered phonetically, that is full of “comic” mispronunciations?

Just imagine writing something like this:

He switched on the radio and listened to the BBC announcer reading the news:

“Gud mawning. Hear iz thi nuze.

“Tu wimin hu whur trapt on an i’land faw neerli ait ‘owers wer brawt tu safti bie thi ayr si reskew servis juzd a fhew minits agow. Wun ov them iz sed to bi suffering from expozure, bud bawth ar sayf.

“In the Hawse of Comuns yestaday, the Chansellor ov the Exchecker sed he thawt that the reasent bugit had pruved to be a grate suksess. But sum ekonomists hav carst dawt on hiz fawcasts of a stedi drop in the numba awt ov wurk

“Meenwile, thi Bridish Pryme Minizter and the Irish TeaShark hav had furtha tawks in Lundon abowt thi Anglow-Eyrish Agriiment. And tu boms explowded owtside a Polees Stashun in Newri.”

The rest of the news did not interest him. He began to cook supper.

No one does this to BBC English, of course. It is only ever done to dialects of English, and then only as a way of mocking and sneering at such dialects. Usually, it is done against poor people or against some sorts of foreigner.

This method has been widely criticised in recent years. Its basic absurdity has been pointed out many times, especially by people on the political left. Most writers have now stopped doing it. But not Mr Moorcock, despite his radical pretensions.

And in fact, his rendering of Cockney isn’t even really based on specific East End pronunciations. Everybody [in Britain] pronounces “was” as “woz”. And “poor” and “pore” are pretty much the same word, when spoken with a standard English accent.


This is taken from a much longer essay about Michael Moorcock, his criticisms of Tolkien and the question of fantasy in general.

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