Please don't sanitize Meghan Markle

If the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, the rain on the grounds of Kensington Palace will fall in a markedly ...

Posted: Feb 16, 2018 7:14 PM
Updated: Feb 16, 2018 7:14 PM

If the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, the rain on the grounds of Kensington Palace will fall in a markedly similar fashion.

And it will fall in an identical accent to this line -- fed to Eliza Doolittle by Henry Higgins during her elocution lessons in My Fair Lady -- if Buckingham Palace gets its hands on the larynx of Meghan Markle.

The royal bride-to-be is, according to reports in the British tabloids earlier this week, undergoing elocution and etiquette lessons. "She simply cannot be 'taking out the trash' and 'wearing pants,'" a royal source was quoted as saying.

If true, this is a great shame. The very essence of what makes us human is language -- the vocabulary we select and the accent in which we deliver it. It's what characterizes and differentiates us. It was surely a factor in Prince Harry's attraction to Meghan in the first place.

The modern image the Palace is trying to cultivate would also be blemished if this is true. It would be a regressive step to sanitize and anglicize Markle -- her American dulcet tones are a crucial part of what make her sparkle. It could be that the Palace balked at the first American accent to grace their grounds since the problematic Wallis Simpson. But by doing so, they ignore a gratifying linguistic trend.

The Queen's English is dying out -- if not grammatically, then melodically. It was once the case that the RP accent -- received pronunciation -- was the domain of every British newsreader (especially on the BBC). It was the holy grail of accents: neutral, trustworthy, authoritative, but utterly dull.

That was during a time when accents were thought to denote character traits, including intelligence and articulateness. It's a time the Palace refuses to accept has been and gone.

Education was restricted to the elite. Beautiful, mellifluous and sesquipedalian words were therefore the exclusive domain of the privileged, with their clipped, cut-glass accents.

But as access to education opened, a linguistic phenomenon flourished: eloquence without elocution. It's a delightful juxtaposition, and a hallmark of the current generation of writers, speakers and language lovers.

Something superbly democratic has happened: Access to the words previously roped off in the VIP enclave is now available to people who pronounce them altogether differently. It reinvigorates the previously pretentious with a rougher, cooler edge.

The redistribution of language isn't confined to accent. It also stretches to argot -- the terminology that differentiates a particular group. American argot is the diction that has Markle sit her fanny on a chair (her bottom, after finishing school anglicizes her). We hear eloquence in all accents, patois from every corner.

As Jamila Lysicott eloquently asks in her TED talk, Three Ways to Speak English, who controls articulation? Articulate, as a compliment, has been conventionally perceived as being owned by posh white men.

It overlooks the ever-transforming nature of language and the creativity of colloquial patois used by different groups to develop kinship with others of their race, religion, age, social class or sexual orientation -- from hip-hop to street slang; Yiddish to Polari.

A diversity of accents within the Monarchy, and wider society, reveals that education and eloquence aren't owned by the British aristocracy. These traits can exist in America and Australia.

I just hope someone tells the Palace.

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