Show caption Alex Scott: proud of her roots. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Observer letters Letters: it’s not what you say but the way that you say it The BBC’s Alex Scott is right to take pride in her accent, but sometimes it’s good to compromise Sun 8 Aug 2021 06.00 BST Share on Facebook
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I appreciate Alex Scott’s pride in her local accent but not her commitment to its use on every occasion (“BBC’s Alex Scott is ‘proud’ of her accent, despite call from peer for ‘elocution lessons’”, News). I was born and brought up in the north-east of England. We were encouraged to speak both standard English and the regional dialect, for the sake of clarity and courtesy.
This bore fruit when I moved from a London teaching hospital to my home town for midwifery training. Under the expert guidance of supervising midwives, I was proud to learn to calibrate according to individual mothers between “Please push towards your tail, Mrs Higgins” and “’Ave a big shuv, luv” to produce the best results and satisfaction of all concerned.
Rather than sneering at the admirable Alex Scott, Digby Jones would have been better employed attacking the home secretary, Priti Patel. She habitually drops the “g” from present participles, which has made her contributions to the Downin’ Street briefin’s even more infuriatin’ than they would otherwise have been.
Morality of the climate crisis
David Wallace-Wells’s argument for adaptation to the climate crisis omits the moral aspect (“Adapt or die. That is the stark challenge to living in the new world we have made”, Comment). However good our adaptation measures are, and even if (fat chance) the rich countries offer sufficient help to the developing world, large parts of the world are going to become uninhabitable: the Sahel, Bangladesh, parts of the Middle East, just for starters. The inhabitants of these countries will have nowhere to go and massive international transfers of population will inevitably result.
We, a country recently rated as one of those most likely to be able to adapt, will be a magnet. The effect of this will be a steep rise in the government’s willingness to adopt brutal policies to prevent the arrival of refugees. This is already happening: Priti Patel’s anti-immigrant policies are morally indefensible. As the crisis deepens, we are certain to see a deepening of the moral gulf, too. Politicians will continue to exploit public anxiety.
For the love of Latin
The introduction of Latin in state schools will do little to counter its reputation as an elitist subject (“State schools to teach Latin”, News). Latin is still mostly taught via the 19th-century grammar-translation method. This treats Latin as a code rather than a language and is well known to be exclusionary due to the inherent difficulty of learning abstract and technical rules of grammar. As these rules bear no relation to how the brain processes language, it does not lead to language acquisition.
Modern methods of teaching languages, informed by the science of second language acquisition, are needed if students are to actually read Latin (the primary goal for many). Such methods, often referred to as “active Latin” or “living Latin”, are growing in popularity among some teachers. They lead to better language skills, are more enjoyable and, crucially, are far more equitable.
When treated as a tool of active communication, Latin is beautiful and can give easy access to 2,500 years of literature on a mind-boggling array of subjects. But unless the curriculum abandons its outdated ways, Latin will remain dry, irrelevant to the vast majority, as dead as Caesar and the preserve of a privileged few.
The trouble with men
Tom Lamont’s piece was an important and long overdue exploration of how we can better bring up our boys (“How to raise a boy”, the New Review). I am regularly horrified at the appalling way that men treat women. I am also surprised and disappointed at how often the debate around the subject focuses on how women should protect or save themselves and how rarely we ask why our society is producing so many scared, angry, aggressive, violent, insecure and sometimes murderous men. It still seems as if there is an assumption that it is women who have to learn to deal with toxic masculinity. Surely prevention is always better than cure?
School inequality is not new
Though no supporter of the government’s policies for education, I cannot accept the contention that responsibility for the blighting of this generation’s prospects “lies with no one other than this government” (“This is quickly becoming no country for young people”, Editorial). The disparity in attainment between those from richer and poorer backgrounds, exacerbated by the pathetic response to the educational consequences of the pandemic, has been with us since the onset of state education in the 19th century. No governments, with the possible exceptions of the Attlee and Blair/Brown administrations, have done anything substantial to address it. The current government is the latest to wilfully ignore the fundamental fault line in our society that nothing short of fundamental social change can shift. This has always been “no country for young people” from economically impoverished backgrounds.
Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria
Struggle for the soul of Tibet
Your report (“Reincarnated… but as what? India joins fray over the next Dalai Lama”, World) could not have appeared at a better time: there is a growing perception in China that, because of Beijing’s ever-expanding political and economic clout, international support for Tibet is flagging. There are two reasons why China wants to appoint a Dalai Lama of its own choosing: China is an authoritarian state and cannot countenance an institution not under its direct control; China lacks credible soft power. What better way for it to fill such a vacuum than to harness Buddhism to its foreign policy narrative, which explains why Beijing is pouring in money to revive the Gandhara trail of Buddhist sites in Pakistan and building a Buddhist centre in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw.
For the Chinese, appointing a “Sinicised” Dalai Lama is no more than securing a strategic advantage in Tibet. But for the Tibetans, such an appointment amounts to undermining their culture and identity that goes back 2,000 years. This is why it is imperative that Tibetans alone should have the right to select their next Dalai Lama.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex
We need a Labour alternative
Labour’s strategy director, Deborah Mattinson, believes the party should “appeal to older, non-university educated people, many of whom voted for Brexit” (“Starmer aide warns: we’ve lost touch with target voters”, News). Well, there goes the next election. When Ken Clarke derides the proposed royal yacht as “silly populist nonsense”, Labour keeps shtum; when the Tories cut foreign aid, Labour’s response is muted; when Nigel Farage calls the RNLI a taxi service for migrants, Labour is slow to condemn; and when Priti Patel dismisses taking the knee by England’s footballers as “gesture politics”, Labour doesn’t attack her unequivocally.
Why this reticence? Because it is desperate not to offend the (allegedly) socially conservative, “patriotic” voters in its former heartlands. This fatally compromises its message – no wonder people don’t know what Labour stands for. Above all (and for the same reasons), Labour misses one opportunity after another to condemn Brexit, a misconceived policy that all main political parties opposed in 2016.
Instead of chasing the same group of elderly nostalgists, Labour should be presenting, with confidence and optimism, a clear alternative to the failed agenda of this wretched government. The answer is right there in last week’s editorial: “This is quickly becoming no country for young people”. Younger people have been shafted by one government after another, but they (and anyone with a progressive bone in their body) will come out and vote in droves if Labour comes up with a positive, green, pro-European offer and promotes it unapologetically.
Who let the dogs out?
Professional dog walkers in London are concerned that the number of dogs they walk might be limited to four (“Dog fight on Hampstead Heath as walkers sound alarm over curbs”, News). I can’t be the only one who thinks that there are just far too many dogs around. Everywhere.
Menai Bridge, Gwynedd