It’s 8am and you’re listening to Today with Nick Robinson and…a whole needless storm of pedantic nonsense. The UK’s flagship current affairs breakfast show was reduced to a maelstrom of frenzied listener criticism by Robinson’s innocuous reference to ‘alumINIUM’ as ‘aluMINUM’ in an interview with an American academic. Such was the force of Radio 4 listener fury that the presenter was forced to apologise on air shortly afterwards.
What does this incident tell us about ourselves – and specifically about how we use language? It tells us that the average, reasonably intelligent and informed person who tunes in to this show also has a propensity towards pedantry, an attitude of anti-Americanisation and an intolerance of the laudable and just plain polite practice demonstrated by Mr Robinson of mirroring the language of his guest. What’s next, a tirade delivered against a presenter because he/she had the audacity to slow down and speak a little more clearly when dealing with a non-native speaker? When did we get so rude – and why have we developed such an inferiority complex in attempting to ‘defend’ the language so zealously?
As I’ve said before and will doubtless be compelled to say again and again over the coming months and years of post-Brexit Britain’s struggles to find a place in the new world order, we do not own the exclusive rights to English and we need to demonstrate a flexibility and willingness to adapt in order to communicate on terms that others can appreciate without any miscommunication. I applaud Mr Robinson for his verbal dexterity. But I shudder at the thought of the judgement – or lack of it – emanating from his narrow-minded listenership.