“The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain.” I couldn’t say this sentence with a genteel British accent even if my life depended on it. I’m from America where English hasn’t been spoken in years. Or so claims the self-important Professor Higgins in the movie My Fair Lady. But that’s ok with me because now I have met enough people from England to know that they don’t all have a posh accent either.
This morning was filled with organization and finally getting things unpacked and put away from the village. It only took me a week. The afternoon was booked once again with meetings. But then I came home and put in the movie My Fair Lady while I did some baking. I’m working on my 12 dozen cookies as a contribution to the refreshments table at conference which begins next week.
Anyway if you have any interest in language then the movie My Fair Lady is quite amusing and interesting. This Professor Higgins is a man who observes people and can place people within the society by their speech. And then for the sake of proving his phonetic prowess, he takes on Miss Eliza Doolittle as his student to take her from a common street flower seller to a refined lady. His theory is that it all hinges on speech and once she sounds like a lady the rest will fall into place. Oh course in the movie this all works out quite nicely and Miss Doolittle in the end does become a lady with beautiful polished English speech.
While watching this movie I couldn’t help but see Eliza Doolittle as someone stepping into a foreign culture. Once she was able to take on the dress, speech and mannerisms, she became more comfortable in her environment although never feeling quite at home. And when she tried to go back to where she came from, she no longer fit in and her own familiar territory was now surprisingly foreign. This is an interesting parallel to those of us who work in other cultures. Even if we learn the culture and language, we are still outsiders. But going back to our own culture often feels strange as well. Maybe the answer for the linguists in other cultures will be the same as Miss Doolittle’s- we can just teach phonetics.