Webster, Wendy (2012) 'The Whim of Foreigners': Language, Speech, and Sound in Second World War British Film and Radio. Twentieth Century British History, 23 (3). pp. 359-382. ISSN 0955-2359

There have been a number of recent calls for more attention to be given to the auditory in understanding modernity. This article looks at the significant role played by sound in British propaganda in the Second World War, and evidence from audience research about different auditory perceptions, both at home and overseas. In tracing the increasing diversity of English speech in British media – not only by class and region but also by different nations within the English-speaking world – the article argues that such diversity was a key element in what I call an ‘allies war’, presenting unity between the allied nations. Non-German Europeans were transformed from alien foreigners into members of the family of allies through differentiation of their sound from German. Such diversity did not extend to differences of language. Although Britain became increasingly multilingual with the arrival of refugees, exiles, troops and war workers, British media continued to present a monolingual nation and empire for domestic audiences. Even so, many speakers of non-English languages worked in British cinema and at the BBC. The article looks at some of their contributions to wartime culture and their responses to the media's investment in a monolingual Britain. The question of who sounded civilised – at the heart of diverse verdicts on hierarchies of speech and language – was contested within and between nations. The article concludes by arguing that evidence about different auditory perceptions signalled the increasing erosion of English power over speech and language and subordination to American.

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