Ah, the endless complexities of English identity!, by Duncan Sutherland

Guest post. As a comment upon Le temps qu’il fait le 30 juin 2016.

Ah, the endless complexities of English identity as defined by place and social rank but especially social rank in its relationship to forms of language, which function not only as communication, of course, but as mechanisms for defining and identifying who belongs to which class and merits the privileges thereof and who does not.

On this subject I wonder if you know the famous comedy sketch above, which sums the whole monstrous phenomenon up brilliantly:

The sketch, of course, concerns itself with English society purely and simply, as the further complexities of the rest of the UK would have been too much to cope with, presumably, but what it occurs to me to say about those further complexities is that the actor who plays the middle-class Englishman in the video later played a working-class Englishman (from the East End of London) who is given the following line by the script-writer: “I thought I was working class until I went to Scotland, and now I think of myself as middle class.” The line gets a huge laugh from English people but . . . you’ve guessed it.

Class and how it interacts with language to protect privilege is not something with which Scots tend to have much patience on the whole, fascinating though the whole sorry business may be. Out of step, you see. Always out of step. Always longing for some great social-democratic nirvana in which even the English have come to their senses at last.

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