Gay Byrne on RTE pronunciation

Madam, - In a presumably tongue-in-cheek article (Magazine, December 18th), the broadcaster Gay Byrne takes issue with what he…

Madam, - In a presumably tongue-in-cheek article (Magazine, December 18th), the broadcaster Gay Byrne takes issue with what he considers the mispronunciation of the letter "T" as an "S" by RTÉ newsreaders, reporters, special correspondents and presentation announcers.

By indulging in what he terms "the Soft Irish Tee", he declares, such media professionals are suffering from "bad habits and verbal tics". Indeed, he goes so far as to accuse one journalist of being "just too bloody lazy to lift his tongue" - for the grievous offence of pronouncing "David" as "Daviss".

Dr Byrne goes on to criticise newer entrants to the profession of journalism by querying the manner in which they are interviewed and selected. "Do they just walk in off the street and start blasting away because they've done a journalism course and they have an NUJ card?"

May I reassure him that today's generation of graduate journalists have a thorough understanding of sociolinguistics and the psychology of speech and communication?


They know, for example, that through the culturally determined tyranny of received pronunciation, some individual sounds will assume a prestige value as "correct" or "pleasant", while others will come to be stigmatised as "incorrect" or "ugly".

They also know that views such as those expressed by Gay Byrne are primarily a matter of social attitude with little or nothing to do with aesthetic integrity or intelligibility.

The vast literature on this subject emphasises that the normative pressure on pronunciation exerted by commentators such as Dr Byrne are often rationalised in terms of a spurious a priori legitimacy or false notions of linguistic propriety.

The relative status of the pronunciation of individual sounds with respect to one another will continue to evolve on our national airwaves as they become populated with an ever widening variety of broadcasting talent to include men and women of all ages, socio-economic background and ethnicity.

This healthy trend - in terms of pronunciation - is perhaps the dynamic that Dr Byrne has observed but has misdiagnosed as a "virus".

Merry Chrissmas. - Yours, etc.,

Dr TOM CLONAN, School of Media, Dublin Institute of Technology, Aungier Street, Dublin 2.

Madam, - In an absorbing article, the great Gay Byrne chided certain RTÉ presenters for repeatedly mispronouncing the sound "t", an error of such gravity that he feels it should be avoided at all costs.

Unlike on so many previous occasions, he was not feeling exira or delira. - Yours, etc.,

JOSEPH O'CONNOR, Killiney, Co Dublin.