Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Pronouncing Menzies and the deception of accents
About six weeks before Christmas, I flipped over in bed, still half asleep and pushed the button on my radio, just in time to hear the venerable John Humphrys on Radio 4 introducing someone high up in the Liberal Democrat party whom he called Sir Ming somebody.....I instantly sat up..I'd often ruminated on the question of the Chinese in Britain- there's quite a large number of them (it appears to me) but you never quite see them represented on television, the newspapers or in politics as often you increasingly see Brits of African or South Asian heritage, and so I was interested to hear of this apparently high ranking politician with what sounded like a Chinese name. When he spoke though, he certainly had no trace of a Chinese accent but that didn't mean much- I'm used to hearing the poshest cut- glass accents from Africans, Asians, or whoever- one of my weirdest experiences of how an accent can fool you was years ago at the British Council library somewhere in Nigeria. I had entered this room and had heard what appeared to be the poshest English accent coming from behind a bookshelf and so I had expected to see a very white English man and was therefore almost visibly shocked on turning the corner to confront a gentleman whose antecedents were obviously rooted in South East Asia....but I digress. I then tried googling Sir Ming and Liberal Democrat and it soon became obvious that the gentleman in question was actually Sir Menzies Campbell, a trusty Scot and now interim leader of the Liberal Democrats;and that the correct pronounciation for Menzies is Mingis or Menghis or Minghis- or something to that effect. Now I had long ago learnt about the English predilection for tripping up the unwary with names like Featherstonehaugh (pronounced Fanshawe) and Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumley) and so on, but I had no idea that the Scots also engaged in such skulduggery- I mean Mingis for Menzies....come on.....and they say Tunde is hard to pronounce.......!