Don's Diary

March 19, 1999

Friday

Research day. Spend morning straddling the chasm between acoustic phonetics and language acquisition listening to two-year-old Geordies discussing the merits or otherwise of the Teletubby Tinky-Winky. Phone rings. Journalist from the Northern Echo wants to discuss our work on accent change in the Northeast.

Chance to engage with consumers of research! Chance also to exploit media liaison skills gained as part of "raft of competencies" on that course they put me on as a novice lecturer. Engage in media liaison with imprudent bravado.

Saturday

Watch Zoe Ball on Live and Kicking in vague attempt to keep finger on pulse of youth culture. Find she is a phonetic phenomenon - not only interesting vowels but ability to speak continuously while breathing in and out. Phone rings. Colleague from Newcastle has spilt cornflakes over Northern Echo. Wants to know why I told journalist that accents are affected by television (eh?) and that Geordie kids are starting to speak like Del Boy, Bianca Butcher and Dick van Dycke (sic). Feel sense of panic and spill own cornflakes. Cannot recall mentioning TV.

Sunday

Lazy morning catching up on the week's Prisoner Cell Block H on video. Phone rings. And doesn't stop. Press agencies and local TV, all fascinated by my "research into the effects of television on speech". Offered slots on radio phone-ins, debate shows and eventually own series on Radio 4. Plead misrepresentation by Northern Echo (but consider Radio 4). Resort to screening via answerphone. Daily Mail. Ohmygod. Head for pub.

Monday

Department resembles switchboard on Children in Need. Daily Mail has published story uncannily similar to Northern Echo. Phone lines jammed with inquiries into my "research into the Bianca effect". University press office elated. Protest to all and sundry that I do not watch EastEnders (not now Channel 5 shows Prisoner Cell Block H all week). Agree to put the record straight on Radio Newcastle and Tyne Tees TV. Spend day in neurotic dither and almost forget to give lecture. Radio interview delayed because of wheelie-bin debate; TV item dropped because of doughnut eating competition in Saltburn.

Tuesday

Receive letter from Daily Mail reader incensed at "slovenly speech" of today's youth: thinks EastEnders should be on after the 9pm watershed, has not received reply from David Blunkett on same issue and sees me as potential language tsar. I realise I may be in too deep.

Wednesday Media frenzy abates until Beryl Bainbridge practically incites riots with calls for compulsory elocution lessons and banning of Scouse. My media friends come scuttling back for "expert reaction". Feel rosy glow at being considered an expert on anything other than Prisoner Cell Block H. Then - flash of inspiration! Begin proposal for Economic and Social Research Council funding: a real-time sociolinguistic study of changes in officer Joan Ferguson's accent, as reflected over 692 episodes of Prisoner Cell Block H.

Paul Foulkes

Lecturer in phonetics, University of Leeds.

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