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Guest Column

February 8, 2011

"The King's Speech" holds important messages

I have always thought that Americans had a role model in the British when it came to writing speaking good English. One American academic editor once said to me, supporting my view, that the Brits know how to use the language, adding, "After all, it's their language, isn't it?" Not only do the British write good English, less willing to take liberties with syntax grammar, perhaps, than Americans, they seem fascinated with the challenge of delivery. Somehow, they seem a nation of performers.

Where most Americans would speak to you in a conversational tone, some Britons will gladly give a speech, if you will oblige them by being their audience. "Tell me," they'll say. Or, when the going is not entirely to their liking, they might resort to their tried--true "My dear fellow" routine. "The medium is the message," Marshall McLuhan said in his influential 1960s work "Understanding Media."

In the U.K., delivery can sometimes take on a life of its own, enjoying a symbiotic relationship with the message on an equal footing, not unlike McLuhan's medium. Watch the House of Commons weekly "Question Time," during which the members of Parliament get to ask questions of the prime minister his Cabinet.

These sessions can get rowdy at times as members of Her Majesty's Government the Loyal Opposition take turns to deliver their onslaughts. And the members seem to enjoy these attacks, even when they are at the receiving end, so long as they are delivered in good humor. Imagine the challenge of a speech impediment for an aspiring politician in a culture that puts such a premium on the art of delivery. Imagine a young Winston Churchill, an upstart war correspondent trying to elude the authorities, as he did in South Africa during the Boer War. Signs went up urging people to turn in a chubby young English male who pronounced "s" as "sh."

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