Thursday 13 September 2012

Jessica Ennis and the R Problem

Lunch today is the result of a fridge packed with reduced items that need to be used. I’ve got crab paté with avocado slices, spring onion, and red pepper, seasoned with black and cayenne peppers. It’s surprisingly nice, sophistication with zing. A squeeze of lime would make it perfect.

During the London Olympics, Sheffield-born heptathlon winner Jessica Ennis shot up to fame with her achievements and gold medals. The city of Sheffield is very proud of “our Jessica”, and it has put on public events in her honour as well as painting a central post box gold. So why can’t anybody pronounce her name correctly?

I realize that the classic Sheffield accent uses the letter R in odd places, as in “I’ll gerrit” rather than “I’ll get it”. And that’s perfectly charming, as most regional accents are. But Jessica has a name that has been uniquely hers all of her life, and it isn’t Jessie Kerrenis, as everyone insists on pronouncing it. Even a well-educated friend who is a Sheffield native talks about Jessie Kerrenis. When we pointed it out to him, he slowly pronounced “Jessica...Ennis”. But when he tried saying her name quickly it came out “Jessie Kerrennis”. He couldn’t hear the R himself.

When I was very young I had not a lisp but a slightly scratchy S when I spoke. So I was sent to speech class. Through hearing my own voice I learned how to say “scissors” without sounding like they needed oiling. Perhaps the people who are so proud of Their Jessie Kerrenis should go to speech class as well, just to eliminate this one particular unnecessary R. The rest of the accent, of course, can and should remain intact.


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