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Social change and technology

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Considering the impact of social change and technology

Social change

When we speak, we communicate all kinds of social information. When society changes, therefore, so does the way we speak. The 1960s was a time of great social change. Many attitudes at the end of the 1960s were very different from attitudes at the beginning of the decade. This was particularly true of attitudes to social class. We can see the beginnings of this change in the following two clips.

The first one is from a recent comedy show, 'Harry Enfield and Chums'. It makes fun of the style and attitudes of BBC public service announcements from the 1940s and 1950s. Listen to the way the narrator sounds as well as the accents of the people in the film.

While you watch the clip think about:

  • How he behaves
  • How other people behave towards him
  • How the power relationship is reflected in the way he speaks

Harry Enfield and Chums

The first thing you notice is the way the people are dressed and what they are doing. This is a typical middle class dinner party of the time. Everyone talks and behaves according to strict codes. They are dressed formally, they act formally and they talk in formal, clipped tones of Received Pronunciation. And it all makes them look ridiculous.

But we're meant to laugh at more than the way they dress or speak. The sketch mocks the ideas that underpin this way of talking and behaving. All these people sit at the top of a well-established social structure. The men are more powerful than the women (well, they have jobs and the women don't). The joke in the sketch is that the woman is actually much more intelligent than the men. Social convention, however, dictates that she pretends not to be.

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