26 May 2013


In my previous post, I discussed the pronunciation of tomato with an American accent by my grandson Oliver, which seems to be influenced by TV. However, most of his pronunciation seems to be influenced by the people around him, though it can deviate from the way his parents speak.

For example, he has [f] at the start of three, while both his parents have [θ]. And his favourite word why has a vowel that sounds like [ɔɪ] rather than the [aɪ] that his parents have. Both these features of pronunciation may be attributed to the influence of London accent.

This illustrates that we tend to learn our pronunciation from our friends and the people around us but often do not sound like our parents.

13 May 2013


Some linguists claim that television has little influence on the way we speak. We learn our accent from the people around us, not from what we hear on television.

My five-year-old grandson Oliver has been staying with me this past week. He uses the American pronunciation for tomato: [təmeɪtoʊ]. He lives in England and he does not know any Americans, so it seems unlikely that he has heard that pronunciation from people around him. I asked him where he learned it from, and he said it was from a programme called Pepper Pig.

This seems quite convincing evidence that he has learned it from the television, not from people around him.

01 May 2013

Bad News

There seems to be a persistent perception in the UK and perhaps everywhere that things are bad and getting worse. But what evidence is there to support this?

Of course, there are reports in the papers about murders and rapes and other violence. But what evidence is there that these are widespread and that they are more frequent than before?

So let me ask you a question: Which country in Western Europe has seen the largest fall in violent crime over the past few years? The answer is: England and Wales. (See this BBC report.)

And here are some more statistics: Between 2003 and 2012, the homicide rate in the UK fell from 1.99 homicides per 100,000 people to 1.00 homicide per 100,000 people. And the number of people treated in hospital for violent crime fell by 14% in 2012. (See this BBC report.)

So why does everyone seem to believe the opposite? It seems to me that the popular press delights in reporting bad news; and in the absence of any major wars in the world at the moment (with the exception maybe of Syria), they are now focussing on bad news in the UK.

I really think we have to stop believing the popular press. The distorting effect that they have on people's perception is stunning.