The thousands of people who speak the English language over the airwaves used by the British Broadcasting Corporation have been given a compass to chart their course through the shoals of error and carelessness.
It comes in the form of a 40-page checklist of pronunciation and grammar by Robert W. Burchfield, editor of the Oxford English dictionaries. Mr. Burchfield , a New Zealander, was asked to form a verdict on the BBC's use of English after one of the BBC's best-known announcers, Alvar Liddell, wrote in the Listener magazine that the language of Shakespeare was being murdered every hour of the day and night by the BBC's own employees.
Liddell, whose superbly modulated voice became famous in World War II reports , argued that the BBC has a duty to speak correct English, since its broadcasts influence hundreds of millions of English speakers.
His strictures on split infinitives, hanging participles, and ugly intonation were so sharp that the governors of the BBC asked Burchfield to scrutinize TV and radio for three months.
Burchfield reported that Liddell had overstated his case, and that BBC broadcast English is "in broad terms acceptable." But he also offered the corporation a small guidebook to help it remain on the right lines. It is a model of precision and conciseness, but leaves scope for use of regional accents and individual broadcast styles.
The form of pronunciation he recommends is "that of a person born or brought up in one of the home counties, educated at one of the established southern universities, and not yet so set in his ways that all linguistic change is regarded as unacceptable."
He asks for "comparable" to be stressed on the first syllable, and the same for "controversy." Both often receive emphasis on the second syllable.
Burchfield opts to wipe out obviously ugly constructions. He is less upset by confusion of "who" and "whom." Basically, he says, common sense should rule.