It’s bad enough that it’s said that Roy Hodgson wouldn’t have had the England Manager’s job if Harry Redknapp’s wife hadn’t asked her husband to turn it down. Now the focus is on Roy Hodgson’s pronunciation of “r”. Roy Hodgson comes across as a genial fellow and a natural leader. His voice and his soft “r”, sound gentle and modulated. His articulation is clear. The Sun’s headline:
“Bwing on the Ewos”
brought in many complaints including one from the FA. Are they justified? In this instance probably yes. Roy Hodgson’s stature and experience in the world of football seems belittled by the headline which is impersonal and doesn’t impart a feeling of warmth and humour. Fans at Hodgson’s former employer, Fulham FC, had a banner bearing the legend “In Woy We Twust” which does have that feeling of warmth and affection.
While Jonathon Ross or “Wossy” does lean on his pronunciation of “r” as “w” because it’s become part of his trademark and suits his cheeky style, Roy Hodgson does not and his is very slight. It’s not uncommon for people who can pronounce an “r” rhotically to adapt the “w” pronunciation, as an affectation or way of speaking that’s different. For many years the “w” pronunciation of “r” was considered the stamp of the ruling class. This is said to have stemmed from Earl Carrington, 1st Marquess of Lincolnshire, who adopted the “w” pronunciation instead of “r” when he heard the officers around him talking in perfect RP. He was said to have adopted this pronunciation in order to signify his higher status. The affectation spread among those who were also keen to appear part of the ruling class.
In many instances the “w” pronunciation can be a habit left over from childhood. It’s endearing to hear a small child – and it happens especially if the child is the youngest of a large family – keep some vestige of baby talk. In other’s it can be because the skin (frenulum) attaching the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is too tight and the tongue is not able to curve back. In the 60s, over-zealous surgeons sometimes would cut the frenulum and unfortunately many were left with problems. The operation is still performed today but with the care and sensitivity as you would expect with ENT surgeons such as John Rubin. With patient exercise it’s possible to coach people into a firmer pronunciation of “r”.
Deirdre Finnerty writes on the BBC New magazine
“There will be plenty of people who think the row overblown. As Ross said: “Really it’s not a big deal. I wish we weren’t part of such a judgemental culture. It hasn’t ever bothered me. I’m used to it. And I’m sure it doesn’t bother Roy. He is an incredibly well-read, intelligent man, he will take it as a joke”