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Subtitles for the English of the English

[13 Sept 2012] The recent BBC documentary on ‘Panorama’ about the Shadsworth estate in Blackburn showed an area riddled with street-corner drug-dealing, family breakdown, boarded-up shops and drunkenness. Some locals say the film painted a false picture and that Shadsworth is hauling itself out of deprivation. But one of the biggest problems for anyone watching – even for those of us who’ve lived in the north of England all our lives – was the incomprehensible diction of the mainly white native English speakers in the Lancashire town who, when they weren’t crying or cursing, mumbled incoherently to camera.

Surely it’s time the BBC started adding subtitles when heavily accented or inarticulate speech is used? They do it sometimes when filming abroad or when people have a strong speech impediment, or when sound quality is technically poor, and it’s not a mark of shame – viewers and listeners just want to know what people are saying.

Radio 4’s early-morning ‘Today’ programme is fond of interviewing foreign scientists whose English is highly competent but whose diction is often hard to follow, especially amid the clatter of preparing breakfast.

Oh well. At least if you have the right kind of massive widescreen telly that everyone on the Shadsworth estate seems to have, you can reach for the remote and switch on the subtitles yourself. [IR]

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