Mar 03 2008

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I was trying to listen to a BBC report recently, when I became totally frustrated at the reporter whose British dialect was completely inaudible. It wasn’t a technical problem, but a speech impediment. This reporter was apparently speaking English with a British accent, that made everything he said completely garbled. It amazed me the BBC would hire anyone or allow anyone, who spoke so poorly to be on television as a reporter. Perhaps some neigborhood in England somewhere might of understood what he was talking about, but I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.

This made me consider the value of speech, and how remarkably significant it is that most people can talk with each other. Yes we have hundreds of languages, and with technological advancements we have subtitles and translators however, this does not change the fact, that most people communicate by word of mouth, and are successful most of the time.

Most people of ethnic backgrounds have parents or grandparents that speak two or more languages. Some can not or refuse to speak English or what ever language dominates in the country they live in. If I were British I would expect to speak English however, what I was listening to on the BBC was not English it was a strange dialect of the English language. In America everyone seems to have a regional dialect however, I can’t recall not being able to understand anyone if they were speaking English, regardless of the dilect. There are obvious slurs of certain vowels, or mispronouncing certain words, but this BBC reporter mispronounced every word he spoke, while at the same time retaining a British accent. The more I think about it it had to be the worst English I’ve ever heard spoken by an English speaking person.

This brings me to the point I wanted to make today. There is a certain human quality in vocal communications that reaches beyond the human ear. It may be visual, ,or sensual, or intuitive, but it allows most of us to communicate with each other. Many years ago I owned several concessions in major department stores. Customers would always ask me or my staff how much the product was , even after we told them in the presentation. It always amazed me but it became part of the sale to repeat the price several times. One man who I will always remember watched my presentation, smiled, and knodded agreeingly at every closing question, when I asked if he wanted to buy he said something I couldn’t understand . He said, “HMMMM CHHHHSIT. ” I looked at him curiously wondering what language he spoke thinking he completely understood what I had been talking to him about during the three minute presentation. After a few second pause I asked him to please repeat what he had said and he replied, “HMMMMMCCCCHHHIT.” I had no idea what he was saying, and asked a customer who was standing at the display case, if he could understand what the other man was saying. He laughed and said , he was listening, and couldn’t understand what the guy was saying either. My customer was becoming agitated as he realized he could not be understood by the other individual, or myself, and then pointed to the object I was trying to sell him, and said ; HMMMMCHHHST ! By then a small crowd had gathered around the display case , and several people overheard our conversation in the crowded store isle. A young woman asked the customer to repeat his statement again. The man was now quite frustrated and embarassed however, her charm and sympathetic request seemed to disarm him, and he once again said, as he pointed to the object I was trying to sell him, “HMMMMMCHHHHIT!!!

The young woman suddenly smiled and said , “He is asking you, how much is it?” A sigh of relief was heard through the small crowd and I was amazed, that the poor man was trying to ask me how much the product was, since I had already told him the price several times. I looked at him and told him the price again and he reached into his pocket , pulled out his wallet and paid the exact price in dollars and cents. It appeared he understood most of what I was saying but could not pronounce the words, How much is it. The man smiled at the young woman and said “THCK U” She smiled back at him holding back her laugh and told me,”He just said thank you.” I had figured that out already , but thanked her for her help.

I realized after listening to the BBC reporter utter a completely incomprehensible report for over 60 seconds on national television ; that I was as confused listening to him as I had been when I tried to understand my customer. The only difference was I wasn’t trying to sell anyone anything. Then I thought , maybe the reporter’s report wasn’t supposed to be understood, but BBC was obligated to report it, or maybe it was meant to be a filler to kill a few extra minutes of air time and the BBC news executives thought no one would notice. Regardless of what their motive was it worked.


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