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Friday, 7 June 2013

Speak like a Clergy

It's one of those things we always celebrate at the Beaker Folk - the great richness of our English accents.

Indeed, we sit on one of the great accent divides - between the Cockney tribes  to our south and the East English accents to the North and East of us.

But there is one way of speaking that manages a remarkable consistency across great swathes of our green and yellow land. I refer, of course,  to the Clergy Voice.

You may at this time be considering a career as a Clergy.  Or perhaps you already are a Clergy, but had the misfortune to be born Northern or Brummy. Or possibly you are a notorious con-person, needing to impersonate an Archdeacon in order to swindle some pearls out of a Duchess. Whichever it is, you will need to sound like a convincing Clergy to succeed.  And I'm pleased to say I can share the following tips with you.

Emphasis is all-important. Any fool can manage an approximation to Received Pronunciation, but that just identifies you as a member of the down-at-heel Posh Classes.

What makes the real difference is emphasis.

Read that last sentence out loud to yourself,  as follows: let the tone of your voice rise on "makes" and "diff". Leave unduly long pauses after "makes" and "difference". Run "is" into "Emph". Stretch out "emph" as long as you can. It should now sound a bit like this.

What makes... the real dif-ference... is-emphfff-asis.

Try this two or three times.  If you are doing this on the train, it's about now that you will realise that you're alone in the carriage, and the carriage next door is really crowded. But if you're safely at home, you will be becoming aware that you sound a bit more like a Clergy.

Secondly, learn to identify those words that you can randomly emphasise - either in normal speech, in liturgy or when preaching. Words like "rejoice", "exalt" or "smote" should be shouted out as if they are printed in bold and small-caps. Get it right in church, and the old folk in the back row should rise about three inches into the air. At the other end of the scale, "lament", "repine" or "mourn" should generally die away to a quaver. But this is not an absolute rule! Suddenly shouting out "darkness", when the congregation are thinking that's more of a dying-away-to-a-quaver word, can elevate the back row even up to five or six inches.

If what you're saying has a series of monosyllabic words- you'll be reading from something here, as a Clergy would never normally average below about four syllables per word - try kind of singing it in a monotone. Particularly effective if you discover, to your joy, that there's a "repent" to shout out at the end of the sentence.

And don't forget your "r"s. Any word beginning with an "r" should be rrrrrrolled out as long as you can. Gives a rrrrrremarkable rrrrrrhetorical rrrroundness.

Should you have followed my instructions, you should now be sounding like an authentic country or small-town Clergy. But maybe this isn't enough for you? Maybe you aspire to being the Clergy of a well-heeled trendy suburban evangelical church? In that case, just follow this one easy step. Go to Eton.


  1. When you deal with Clergy Speak, what about Church speak?

    The Church has a language of it's own, and I don't mean Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic. I'd call it a mix of Etonese and Estuary English.

    Church speak is non-confrontational, inoffensive and kindly, a little like someones favourite grandmother on steroids. Church speak doesn't contain any blasphemy and the occasional 'bl**dy or 'bo****cks' is met with pursed lips and disapproval, particularly if it comes from the Vicar as he bangs his/her thumb with a hammer when nailing up Christingle decorations. When you have a conversation with a Churchie you inevitably end up feeling either 'nice' or outraged, with no in-between.

    A softly spoken conversation between the Church Warden and the Organist over the choice of hymns sounds quite civilized on the face of it, but words spoken from gritted teeth, bitten lips with clenched fists by their sides, demonstrate the power of restraint and why both the Vestry and Choir Vestry both have punch bags in the corner. You never offend, you take it out on the punch bag.

    While this is bad enough, the technical terminology of the church can be very confusing to us poor mortals in the pews. The terms derived from Latin for various Vestments, furniture, Altar furnishings, Eucharistic crockery etc are confusing to the lay person, not in the know and the smile of smirking superiority of the Verger of Sacristan as they know your discomfiture as 'not being in the know' demonstrates that 'secret societies' are alive and well in the church. What I don't understand is if we have freed the Church from Rome and Mass in Latin in the 16th Century, why, 450 years later do we persist with this stuff. In my days in the Army, a Corporal was a Junior Non-Commissioned Officer, not a bit of linen that is used on the Altar. And if I told any self respecting Corporal that he was just an old piece of linen, I'd have rued the consequences either oral or physical.

    No, the Church of England needs to grow up and keep up with the times. Liturgy and sermons spoken phonetically in 'text' speak will draw in the younger generations, while driving the 'graying ones' into the arms of FiF, Reform, Fulcrum and other like obsolete organisations - peace all round.

  2. Our minister (Methodist of course) is from 'Owdham' (Oldham to southerners). Strangely accent is no problem. Perhaps the C of E needs to follow Channel 4 with its huge range of regional voiceovers.

    1. Or the Geordie bloke from Big Brother? "Year furty in the deser'. Merses is reet angry wi' the peeple uv Izrairl" (apologies to Geordies)

  3. Thanks for this, Eileen. Now I know where I've been going wrong all these years. I simply cannot roll my "r"s. no wonder people can't tell from listening to me that I'm a Clergy. Sigh....

  4. Oh dear, I fear I have discovered that our "clergy" is an imposter.
    He fails all of the above tests.
    Must get on to MI16 to find out who sent him.

  5. My parish have known I'm an rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr soul for a long time.

  6. I have a pact with a clergy friend that if either of us starts getting a parsonical voice, the other must shoot them immediately (or at least metaphorically!) Actually there is now TV evidence that I still have a moderate Nottingham accent, and therefore am suspect.


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