It’s About Accents

Larry 'n NassauBy the magic of Netflix I’ve been watching lots of foreign TV, mostly British. While I still have problems with colloquial verbiage and accents I’m getting better. For example, I now know that to nick in England is to steal and the local police station is also called the nick. Even so I find it imperative to turn on closed captioning to get me over the frequent humps. I’ve also watched a number of programs filmed in a language other than English but with English subtitles.

For the most part I’m doing okay with the dialects and accents of the British Isles and keeping up with reading the subtitles of Scandinavian languages. The Swedes and Danes speak slow enough that I can read the subtitles and still keep up with the on-screen action.

Where I’ve had the most difficulty and given up was a TV series from France and a PBS production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. While I love hearing the French language the pace is simply too fast for be to read the subtitles and stay with the visual happenings. I’m so busy reading subtitles I don’t have time to even learn the faces of the characters. I’ve not attempted anything in Spanish which I’m pretty sure would be even faster.

William Shakespeare is another matter altogether. While his works are in English it is not the kind of English I learned in the hills of Southern Ohio. While it is English of the mother tongue its ancient vocabulary, order of words, and rapidity of speech makes it difficult for me to understand. Even with my hearing aids turned “all knobs to the right” I just don’t get it.

To prove my point just take a look at one of the opening passages from Henry IV.

Yea, there thou makest me sad and makest me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue;
Amongst a grove, the very straightest plant;
Who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride:
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
And call’d mine Percy, his Plantagenet!
Then would I have his Harry, and he mine.
But let him from my thoughts. What think you, coz,
Of this young Percy’s pride? the prisoners,
Which he in this adventure hath surprised,
To his own use he keeps; and sends me word,
I shall have none but Mordake Earl of Fife.

If I take my time and read slowly the lines have meaning. But I frequently have to stop, re-read, and seriously consider what I’ve read. For me it is a very slow, and often painful, process. Trying to understand Shakespeare’s works when verbally performed is almost impossible and made no easier by the use of subtitles.

For centuries the world has proclaimed the greatness of Shakespeare and the power and meaning of his words. Well, who am I to challenge the world? I’ll just accept its judgement, memorize a few of the Shake’s key lines (so I can come off as being sophisticated), and be thankful I had Cliff’s Notes and Classic Comics to help get me through my English Literature classes in high school and college.

In the meantime I’m anxiously awaiting the new season of Downton Abbey while watching reruns of the BBC’s MI-5 and pleading with them to produce more episodes of Foyle’s War.

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