Monthly archives of “June 2019

Our Broath, Your Broath, A’body’s Broath!

My in-laws live a few miles up the east coast of Scotland, in a town called Arbroath. It tickled us no end that our daughter – surrounded by nothing but Scottish accents – parsed this as ‘our broath’.

It’s not the ‘broath’ bit that’s notable (it’s just a nonsense word in this context) but it’s interesting because the ‘our’ is a confusion that could only occur with an RP accent. In RP – and it’s always tricky to render accent phonetically without recourse to IPA, but let’s have a go – ‘our’ would be spoken a bit like ‘ah’. A Scots accent would say that like ‘ow-ur’ – adding a whole other syllable, never mind the more explicit ‘r’ sound.

So an English person may indeed hear ‘Arbroath’ as ‘our broath’ – ‘ah-broeath’ – whereas it probably would never occur to a Scot to parse it that way, because we’d say something like ‘ow-ur-broth’, with that second ‘o’ being long and flat. It’s curious, then, that Ada did hear it as ‘our broath’, and I can only assume that it comes from her watching Cbeebies, which has a lot of RP accents (though blessedly, it’s a much more eclectic mix these days).

It’s all perfectly consistent inside her head, though: the town is simply called Broath. And we know this to be true because she informed us recently that if someone was visiting where grandma and grandad live, it would just be called Broath, but to us, it’s ‘our Broath’.

A tiny, completely inconsequential thing, but something that I found fascinating, highlighting as it does the mechanisms by which we acquire language. She herself speaks with a Scottish accent, but she can hear in other accents.

Sinew, soul and cinematography

I’ve just watched Philippa Perry’s episode of Victorian Sensations, and one of the thoughts in the film resonated with me in particular.

Maybe it’s not surprising that people of the age saw so many ghosts because, in a sense, spirits did haunt the Victorian home. Every Victorian innovation – from photography to motion pictures, phonographs to fantasy books – had its own supernatural genre. Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the hyper-rational Sherlock Holmes, drew on his real-life experience as a ghostbuster to write his ghostly fiction.

If I’m remembering correctly, this – from the programme description – is a direct quote from the script, and as the first spoken sentence concluded, I actually thought it was going to go in a different way.

Before the technological media innovations of the Victorian era – voice recording, cinematography, photography – the only way a person could be present in our world was to be present. The phonograph and cinematograph, and even photography, however, meant that a person could appear to our senses to be present even when absent, which was surely as unsettling as it was exciting. Even realistic depictions in paint or marble couldn’t summon up a sparkling, vital presence in the same way, and so might it not be arguable that this techology-led blurring between, I guess, sinew and soul – this explicit fracturing of reality – was part of what created a chink for spiritualism and metaphysics to spread into the world?

If you have only ever experienced people as living, breathing, real things, tech that made them seem to come alive or travel in space and time must have made you question and challenge your frameworks for reality.

Maybe I’m over-egging this; shamans, drugs, magicians would have been deliberately eliding the natural and supernatural for long, long before the 19th century, and maybe I’m overplaying the penetration of these technologies. Maybe too this is a well-worn trope, which I’m just ignorant of. It’s just that a possible link between the technology which allowed people to be present while actually being absent, and the rise in spiritualism, had just never before occurred to me.