joye the obscured (dustthouart) wrote in linguaphiles,
joye the obscured


Dorothy L. Sayers had a sometimes frustrating tendency to write character's accents out phonetically but in a way that leaves me, at least, often mystified as to exactly what the sound or effect is supposed to be. Sometimes this is doubtless because I'm an American and don't grok all the differences between accents in the British isles.

By far the worst of example, in terms of making me puzzle every time I read either book, is the word "really" spelled "reelly" or "reely" when used by two characters:, Mr. Thipps (an architect) in Whose Body? and Mr. Smayle (an advertiser) in Murder Must Advertise. Smayle's dialogue is otherwise entirely conventional in grammar and spelling (which adds to my mystification). Thipps occasionally drops his hs, although he usually corrects himself (but he does not hypercorrect), and has some minor other grammatical errors, and his mother drops her hs and has many grammatical errors. So for Thipps the overall effect is suggesting someone who is the first generation middle class, educated but not highly educated, and striving to be correct in speech.

1. What is the sound difference we're meant to imagine between "really" and "reelly"? A longer [i]? A sharper [i]? Something else?
2. What is this pronunciation supposed to tell us, especially about Mr. Smayle?

Here are some descriptions of Mr. Smayle and some quotes in which he says "reelly":
"A brisk, neat young man, with an immaculate head of wavy brown hair, a minute dark moustache, and very white teeth"
"'I'm reelly very sorry,' said Mr. Smayle, 'that Tallboy and I should have indulged in anything approaching to words in your presence, Miss Meteyard.'... 'No, but reelly,' said Mr. Smayle, lingering at the door of Miss Meteyard's room, 'if a man can't take a harmless joke, it's a great pity, isn't it?'"
"'I like to be agreeable with everybody,' said Mr. Smayle, 'but reelly, when it comes to shoving your way past a person into the lift as if one wasn't there and then telling you to keep your hands off as if a person was dirt, a man may be excused for taking offence. I suppose Tallboy thinks I'm not worth speaking to, just because he's been to a public school and I haven't.'... 'but what I say is, I went to a Council School and I'm not ashamed of it.'" [NB: I'm not positive exactly what a Council School is, but assume it's similar to a modern comprehensive.]
Another character (who dislikes Smayle) speaking of Smayle: "'Last year [to play cricket] he wore white suede shoes with crocodile vamps, and an incredible blazer with Old Borstalian colours.'" [NB: "Old Borstalian" seems to be a waggish way of describing a former reform school student, but I'm not sure what colors this is supposed to indicate, other than perhaps just being an extra snobby way of saying "he looked trashy". I don't know if it would be a helpful clue regarding origin or not, but Smayle is actually a moderately good cricketer.]

Mr. Thipps, ditto:
"Mr. Alfred Thipps was a small, nervous man, whose flaxen hair was beginning to abandon the unequal struggle with destiny."
"'Such a thing has never 'appened—happened to me in all my born days. Such a state I was in this morning—I didn't know if I was on my head or my heels—I reely didn't, and my heart not being too strong, I hardly knew how to get out of that horrid room and telephone for the police. It's affected me, sir, it's affected me, it reely has—I couldn't touch a bit of breakfast, nor lunch neither...'"
Lord Peter imitates Thipps: "'Oh, Parker, Parker! I could kiss her, I reely could, as Thipps says.'" [So this seems to indicate that this pronunciation is very distinctive?]
"'But it went against my conscience—such a young girl as she was—and she put her arm round my neck afterwards and kissed me just like as if she was paying for the drink—and it reelly went to my 'eart,' said Mr. Thipps, a little ambiguously, but with uncommon emphasis."

Both books take place in London and environs, 20s and early 30s.

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