Speak English to Me: No Affectations Please.

Electronic media, television in particular, are marred by detestable mannerisms from unprofessional presenters

In advance of making a maiden speech (I cannot remember when or where) I was once advised, by someone who knew about these things, to select a face from the crowd and to address myself to that face.

‘Remember, you are talking to one person, not a crowd,’ he observed. ‘The crowd only exists from your point of view but each member of your crowd is an individual to him- or herself and has a right to be spoken to face to face.’

When I hear or see electronic media, especially TV, more often than not I find myself addressed as a crowd and I wonder whether anybody in media-land ever trains presenters to imagine that they’re speaking to just one person.

Consider this: I’m sitting in my living room and on to my telly appears the weather forecaster. ‘Good evening everybody.’ She begins.

‘Everybody’? She’s talking to me for God’s sake.

Then she goes on, ‘Some of you will need your umbrellas tomorrow…’

Some of me? Which bit – my arms, legs, head?

What she should have said, of course, was ‘Good evening to you. If you live in Dunedin you’ll need an umbrella tomorrow…’

And as for training, how is it that so many TV presenters, all over the world, have that mode of delivery wherein they accompany their narrative - as they slowly walk towards the camera - with jerky movements of their arms while their fingers are stuck out rigidly like starfish? Because they copy one another, that’s why! If I, the viewer, am extremely fortunate, the cameraman will frame a tight shot leaving out the spastic limbs. But I should be so lucky.

And while on the subject of professionalism, I read an article by Jane Clifton in the Listener recently in which she deplored the deterioration of New Zealand English. It struck me that the pronunciation and clichéd speech we receive these days is greatly driven by television and that, unfortunately, television is dominated by sport.

Interviews with sports people are often incomprehensible because many of them can’t speak clearly. They’re great ones for answering questions with ‘Yeah no’, and finishing sentences with ‘eh’. To our young people these putative role models might be heroes whose speech must be emulated.

Nowadays commentators of sport, especially cricket, are no longer professional presenters but re-cycled sportsmen. I don’t believe that one true commentator exists. Consequently we hear mangled speech such as: ‘reguly’ for regularly, ‘particuly’ for particularly, ‘opperchewy’ for opportunity and that description of a dropped catch as having been ‘put down’. Were I a fielder who’d dropped a catch I’d probably sue the commentator, it not only implies a deliberate act but is also a slander!

As for ‘twenny-twenny’ – I give up.