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вторник, 27 сентября 2011 г.

"Pygmalion" celebrates 100 in 2012: Meet Professor Higgins!

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In the preface to the 1916 edition of "Pygmalion", George Bernard Shaw expressed his idea for creating Henry Higgins, the English Phonetics Professor, in the following words, "the reformer England needs ... an energetic phonetic enthusiast: that is why I have made such a one the hero of a popular play."

Unlike in the case with Eliza Doolittle, there wasn't one particular person that inspired the creation of Henry Higgins, however, as he continued in the preface to the 1916 edition, there were some unintentional traces of Henry Sweet, the contemporary English language linguist and phonetician, in Henry Higgins's personality.

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"Higgins is not a portrait of Sweet, to whom the adventure of Eliza Doolittle would have been impossible; still, as will be seen, there are touches of Sweet in the play," wrote Shaw. Henry Sweet was an outstanding linguist specializing in Germanic languages, particularly in Old English and Old Norse. On top of that, Henry Sweet showed keen interest in English Phonetics. In 1877 he published A Handbook in Phonetics which attracted attention among the scholars of English in Europe, thus he retained the reputation of "the man who taught Europe phonetics." 

Just like Henry Higgins in "Pygmalion", Sweet was known to be able to produce over 72 vowels in a number of English dialects. On top of that, Sweet would stand before a group of English speakers on the streets, taking notes of their speech and then sending postcards to his friends with the transcribed messages he had heard. 

Another accomplished Phonetics professor of the time was Daniel Jones whose refined speech and dedication to the standard British pronunciation (Received pronunciation) made him one of the most prominent phoneticians of the early 20th century. Incidentally, Daniel Jones's laboratory inspired Higgins's, yet one must admit that regardless of all the similarities with the most acclaimed Phonetics professors of the time "the Higgins character...would appear to have taken on a vivid life of its own during the writing of the play."  

What kind of dialect did Professor Higgins work with when he tried to make Eliza Doolittle into a fine lady? I will write about it more in the next post. In the meantime, please watch one of my favorite songs from My Fair Lady Musical where Professor Higgins expresses his disgust with the English language he hears on the streets, in particular that of a young flower girl, soon-to-be "the fair lady", Eliza Doolittle.


1 комментарий:

  1. Higgins:
    Look at her, a prisoner of the gutter,
    Condemned by every syllable she utters.
    By right she should be taken out and hung,
    For the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue.


    Heavens, what a noise!
    This is what the British population,
    Calls an elementary education.

    Come, sir, I think you picked a poor example.

    Did I?
    Hear them down in Soho square,
    Dropping "h's" everywhere.
    Speaking English anyway they like.
    You sir, did you go to school?

    Wadaya tike me for, a fool?

    No one taught him 'take' instead of 'tike'!

    Hear a Yorkshireman, or worse,
    Hear a Cornishman converse,
    I'd rather hear a choir singing flat.
    Chickens cackling in a barn,
    Just like this one here.


    I ask you, sir, what sort of word is that?

    It's "Aaoooww" and "Garn" that keep her in her place.
    Not her wretched clothes and dirty face.

    Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?
    This verbal class distinction, by now,
    Should be antique.
    If you spoke as she does, sir,
    Instead of the way you do,
    Why, you might be selling flowers, too!

    I beg your pardon!

    Higgins: An Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him.
    The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him.
    One common language I'm afraid we'll never get,
    Oh, why can't the English learn to

    set a good example to people whose
    English is painful to your ears?
    The Scots and the Irish leave you close to tears.
    There even are places where English completely disappears.

    In America, they haven't used it for years!

    Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?
    Norwegians learn Norwegian,
    the Greeks are taught their Greek.
    In France every Frenchman knows his language from "A" to "Zed"

    The French never care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.

    Arabians learn Arabian with the speed of summer lightning,
    The Hebrews learn it backwards,
    which is absolutely frightening.
    But use proper English and you're regarded as a freak.

    Why can't the English,
    Why can't the English,
    Learn To Speak?