ABSTRACT

This article places the phonetic discourse of Pygmalion in the history of efforts to record and standardize spoken English. Early theories of phonetics and elocution used the speech of educated Londoners as a standard reference point. Then, two technologies—new phonetic writing (from Melville Bell and Henry Sweet) and Edison’s phonograph—enabled the recording of the full variety of spoken English. Shaw exhibits the intersection of these technologies in Pygmalion, displaying their contrary powers. On the one hand, they allowed a new precision in understanding the nuances of global English. On the other, they created new ways of linking colonial and imperial power to standardized speech. In his later career, Shaw worked with the BBC to create a new sense of a “narrow band” of standard speakers, expanding beyond London but still conveying a standard model for global imitation. The article considers Eliza’s and then postcolonial resistance to that standardization.

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