On REsearch again

January is a month of correction work in our department: I calculated that I corrected some 200,000 words (!) of student work last month. (I only got likes when I announced this on facebook in the beginning of January.) I’m trying to get my students to avoid the word “research” when they can use “study” or “analysis” instead, and I tell them this is because I’m allergic to REsearch. I was partly successful this time I noticed. Good for me. But is it?

stress on the SECOND syllable

Going through Burchfield’s The Spoken Word: A BBC Guide (1981), in my search for the number of usage problems there are, I found that I’m right of course. The BBC too prescribes reSEARCH, or that is what they would appear to be doing if Burchfield’s Spoken Word may be taken as an indication of this (see Graham Pointon’s comments below). But the booklet also contains a lot of pronunciations that have changed since the early 1980s: HARRass, irREVocable, LAMentable, I don’t think anyone pronounces these words like that any more.

So what about REsearch? Am I perhaps becoming old-fashioned in my prescription of reSEARCH? What does the BBC recommend today?

Oh, and I forgot to add that Burchfield marks REsearch as giving particular offence among BBC listeners.

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5 Responses to On REsearch again

  1. Burchfield may have prescribed ‘re-SEARCH’ in his 1981 book, but the BBC did not. I was the Pronunciation Adviser at the time, and he never once spoke to anyone in the Pronunciation Unit when he was preparing the book – which was something of a surprise to us, as the people responsible for giving advice to BBC personnel. We might have advised ‘re-SEARCH’, but we would not have prescribed it. The BBC is much more broad-minded in its use of language than the audience gives it credit for. I, after all, have a North Midlands accent, and could never be mistaken for speaking RP, and yet I was appointed as long ago as 1978. I do not know, but suspect, that the position of the Pronunciation Unit is the same today as it was then.
    PS I can’t find how to italicize words in comments here, or I should have italicized the word ‘advised’ in the third sentence above.

  2. That is ok (perhaps you could have used the HTML codes word in italics: it is what I use in titles in blogposts, and it works there).

    Many thanks indeed for responding! This is very interesting information. Do you happen to know what Burchfield based his recommendations on? Personally I’m interested in grammar only, but one of my PhD students is working on pronunciation and prescriptivism.

    • and yes, the codes work! Trying again, in words this time: opening caret bracket capital I closing caret bracket words in italics opening caret bracket forward slash capital I closing caret bracket

    • In early 1979, Alvar Lidell, one of the BBC’s retired newsreader/announcers, wrote a letter to “The Listener” complaining about what he perceived as a fall in the standard of English usage on radio and television. This persuaded the then Managing Director of Radio, Aubrey Singer, to set up a committee to look into it. The committee consisted of Burchfield, Denis Donoughue (Professor of English Literature in Dublin, I believe) and Andrew Timothy, who had been the Chief Announcer for BBC Radio. They listened more-or-less intensively for some time, and wrote their report. Burchfield then suggested that he should write a booklet, and this booklet was “The Spoken Word”, which came out, as you wrote, in 1981. Of the 48 pages, only 8 dealt with pronunciation. How he arrived at his conclusions is unknown to me – as I said in my original comment, he never spoke to any of the members of the Pronunciation Unit, although he interviewed the announcers, and their offices, whether for Radio 2, 3 or 4, were in the same corridor as ours, so he had no excuse for ignoring us. As far back as 1928, when the first edition of “Broadcast English I” came out, it was subtitled “Recommendations to Announcers …” and not “Instructions …”, so there has never been a prescriptive attitude to English pronunciation by the BBC. Recommendations made to Radio Newsreaders for names, on the other hand, are mandatory (see the 1974 pamphlet “BBC Pronunciation: Policy and Practice”, and “Degeneration on the Air?” published by Landsscentralen for undervisningsmidler and Danmarks Lærerhøgskole in 1988).

  3. This is extremely relevant, Graham, and helpful for our research. (I’ve adapted the blog post a little, referring readers to your comments as well.) Burchfield does acknowledge you in The Spoken Word (see p. 7), though if he never actually consulted you, I wonder why he would have done so. He doesn’t say why you are mentioned, in a strange kind of contrast to the other people he mentions there, so perhaps it is only a perfunctory reference?

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