Skip to content

Radio and the English language

Updated Friday 4th July 2014

Barbara Mayor, lecturer in the Centre for Language and Communication at The Open University, thinks radio has had the biggest impact on thedevelopment of the English language 

As a member of the radio generation, I believe the BBC has had a big influence, not just on me but on the English language as a whole. When the corporation was set up in the 1920s, part of its mission was to improve the quality of English by standardising its use, and its massive global reach means it can have an enormous impact.
 
Radio has the power to connect with people across geographic and social boundaries, because it’s a relatively cheap technology and one that can be shared. The BBC World Service has been highly influential in disseminating news but also in English language teaching. It has this very wide, deep reach to parts of the globe that until recently other technologies wouldn’t have reached, and it has contributed to the development of English as a lingua franca.
 
In connection with the BBC ’s mission to educate, UK regional variations have often been a source of contention. There was a furore in the 1940s about Wilfred Pickles, a broadcaster with a Yorkshire accent, when people objected to him presenting the news on the basis that they assumed he wasn’t educated.
 
Since the 1970s and 1980s, however, there has been a move – partly because of the proliferation of regional radio stations – towards diversification, and we are now perfectly comfortable with the idea of someone like Susan Rae for example, who has a Scottish accent, reading the UK national news.
 
 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

OU on the BBC: Word4Word - A Word About The Series Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: Word4Word - A Word About The Series

Have you ever wondered how and why people from around the British Isles have different ways of saying the same thing? Word4Word on BBC Radio 4 talks in tongues as part of a nationwide language project.

Article
Does poor spelling really make President Trump unfit for office? Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Office of the President of the United States article icon

Languages 

Does poor spelling really make President Trump unfit for office?

It's not an unpresidented question - should poor spelling be a bar to high office? Philip Seargeant wants us to wake up and smell the covfefe.

Article
Hinglish, Pinglish, Binglish, Minglish Creative commons image Icon leesean under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license article icon

Education & Development 

Hinglish, Pinglish, Binglish, Minglish

The head of the Rewachand Bhojwani Academy finds the multilingualism of Indian society has positive advantages, even though it makes it harder to maintain standards.

Article
Can talking two languages keep your brain healthy? Creative commons image Icon Roland Tanglao under Creative Commons BY 4.0 license article icon

Languages 

Can talking two languages keep your brain healthy?

Around the world, the ability to switch between languages is common - and possibly innate. Gaia Vance asks if monoglots are missing out on something important.

Article
How Brexit Is Giving Rise To A New Wave Of Language Wars Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Rytis Daukantas article icon

History & The Arts 

How Brexit Is Giving Rise To A New Wave Of Language Wars

Language is political, as Brexit and Trump demonstrate

Article
Do enforced language tests help migrants integrate more smoothly? Creative commons image Icon Dingram_kiwi under Creative Commons BY-ND 4.0 license article icon

Languages 

Do enforced language tests help migrants integrate more smoothly?

An Australian perspective on why making English skills a key part of Citizenship may do less for social cohesion than supporters of the idea believe.

Article
Why has English taken over academia? Creative commons image Icon ChristianMcCarthy under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license article icon

Languages 

Why has English taken over academia?

If English is globally squeezing out teaching in local languages, the fault isn't with the language but with economics. Anna Kristina Hultgren and Elizabeth J. Erling explain.

Article
English: skills for learning Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: © PepitolPhotos/Istockphoto.com free course icon Level 1 icon Badge icon

Education & Development 

English: skills for learning

English: skills for learning, is a free course for anybody who is thinking of studying for a university degree and would like to develop the English reading and writing skills needed to succeed. You will learn through a range of engaging activities aimed at extending your existing language skills.

Free course
24 hrs
How can your accent put your life at risk? Creative commons image Icon Greens MPs under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license article icon

Languages 

How can your accent put your life at risk?

Stories from Australia and the US reveal how dangerous it can be when listeners fail to take people seriously because of their accented English.

Article