BBC English


  • Intro

    The British Broadcasting Corporation was formed from the British Broadcasting Company in 1927, and for several decades became a byword for ‘good English’.  In 1926 its Director General, Sir John Reith, set up an Advisory Committee on Spoken English to recommend to broadcasters a standard pronunciation for uncommon words or words with alternative pronunciations.


    The committee maintained an open watch on words, and changes can be seen between its first two published lists, in 1928 and 1931.  For example the recommended pronunciation of ‘garage’ changed from ‘garraazh’ in 1928, so that in 1931 it rhymed with ‘marriage’ and ‘carriage’.  The early published lists function as a record of spoken English usage, for example in the pronunciation of ‘fetish’, as perceived by the committee members, who included the American scholar Logan Pearsall Smith, the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, and two lecturers in phonetics.


    The popular notion of ‘BBC English’ as an idealised form of the spoken language lasted until the 1960s, though the BBC’s Pronunciation Unit, which replaced the Advisory Committee after the Second World War, was solely intended to advise on the pronunciation of unfamiliar words.  It still performs this function.


    The BBC’s Recommendations for Pronouncing Doubtful Words: Broadcast English, 1929.

    Shelfmark: Ac.9921.[SPE Tract 32].

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