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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 

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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.




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