Ring Modulator English

The Doctor Who world is growing ever smaller. The show is broadcast almost simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic. Stories are shot on location in the US. The senior echelon at Cardiff seems to decamp to the States for weeks on end each year to promote the show  at conventions. It may be that only one thing still separates American from British fans: the word that dare not speak its name.

When you work in central London, you regularly meet American tourists asking for directions and you smile welcomingly while silently praying that they’re heading for anywhere but Leicester Square. The American tendency to pronounce it as “Lie-sester” is enough to make even the friendliest Brit’s smile waver for a millisecond as our neatly ordered world threatens to spin off its axis and go hurtling into the Sun.

Actually, the one thing that American tourists nearly always say to strangers which is guaranteed to confuse your average Brit is when they address him as “Sir”. Our brains are instantly sent into panic mode as, in the wink of an eye, we desperately recheck our internal class system compasses, scan the horizon to see if there’s anyone within earshot deserving of such unheard-of politeness and finally come to the conclusion that yes, they really are addressing us. It must be even worse for women as the only people who get called “Ma’am” over here are the Queen and Delia Smith.

Americans should never stop doing this, of course, as we deserve the occasional reminder that, however snooty some Brits may be towards them, they invariably have far better manners than we do. Having said that, you could work harder on the “Leicester” thing, guys.

When it comes to differences in speech patterns though, the one thing that is beyond both comprehension and the pale is the standard American pronunciation of “Dalek”. In British pronunciation (which I think we can without arrogance assume is standard throughout the cosmos), it’s DAR-LEK/DAH-LEK. How do Americans come to pronounce it as DALLIK? Even Canadians (and I think we all know who I mean by that), who really ought to know better, give us something midway between the two. How does this come about?

[pullquote align=right]It’s as mystifying as the tendency of 99% of British podcasts to call our showrunner “MoFATT” instead of “MOFFit”. If anyone has an explanation for either, I’d love to hear it?[/pullquote]You could understand it if the average North American Doctor Who fan encountered the TARGET novelisations before the TV show itself. When you read a made up word which you’ve never heard spoken, naturally you assign to it your own familiar speech patterns. I hear that, when the first Harry Potter film premiered, half the world’s children reeled in shock to learn that Harry didn’t after all hang out with a girl called HERMY-OWN. But this can’t be the explanation. Americans must surely encounter the TV series first and therefore hear the word pronounced before they ever see it written down. So why change it? It’s as mystifying as the tendency of 99% of British podcasts to call our showrunner “MoFATT” instead of “MOFFit”. If anyone has an explanation for either, I’d love to hear it?

I have heard it argued that it’s no different from the British saying Dionne WARRIK rather than WAR-WIK, or my own habit (as a Northerner) of referring to the Doctor’s nemesis as The MA’STER rather than The MAR-STER/MAH-STER when I’ve only ever heard him referred to as the latter in Doctor Who. This doesn’t hold at all though. Warwick is both a British town and a significant figure in English history. The British are likely to have heard of their own Warwick before they heard of the chanteuse. I heard the word “Master” pronounced with a short “a” (or “properly” as we say in the North) before I ever encountered The MAR-STER on TV. And I regularly hear the word pronounced with a short “a” every day.

[pullquote align=right] Warwick is both a British town and a significant figure in English history. The British are likely to have heard of their own Warwick before they heard of the chanteuse. [/pullquote]North America doesn’t have this excuse. Dalek is a word invented by Doctor Who and only ever used in a Whovian context. Why would they automatically convert it to American speech patterns? Do they subconsciously think that, if they pronounce Dalek the British way (or the universal way, as we must now accept), they’ll sound pretentious? I have heard that the British pronunciation of “can’t” can cause paroxysms of mirth in the States. It’s not as if Americans have problems with the vowel sound. They all pronounce TARDIS the right way and, when they first heard the word Dalek, they would have had no reason to suppose that it didn’t contain an “R” or an “H”.

Therefore, I’m seeking support for an elegant solution to the problem. I propose an international campaign to persuade the BBC to officially change the spelling of Dalek to Darlek. Then our transatlantic cousins would have no excuse. We’d have to also change the spelling of Kaled to Karled to keep the anagram intact but that would be OK because we could change Thal to Tharl while we were at it and so maintain the balance of linguistic power across that unimaginably vast expanse between their two city domes. It’s a proposal where everyone’s a winner.

And, in the event that the spelling change proves enormously unpopular, we can always change it back again and claim that the Darleks were only ever intended to be a officer class (or “an officer clarss”). With any luck, in the meantime the BBC will have sold so much respelled Darlek merchandise that they’ll have covered the reprinting costs with enough left over to send the whole production team on a freebie to Lanzarote. At least future generations won’t be able to say that we never tried.

So, while the New World is having its own Dick Van Dyke moment of anguish in the wake of the accents in A Town Called Mercy, now you know how it feels. It’s just not good enough to point out that lots of planets have a North America.

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  1. paul blume says:


  2. Jan says:

    Thank you! I’m an American, and this drives me NUTS. My husband and I cringe each time we hear it. What’s funny is that everyone I actually speak to in person pronounces Dalek correctly, but when I see various specials/ads/etc on BBCAmerica, it’s almost always “Dallick.” Which leads me to think that it’s either a weird Hollywood thing, or a regional accent issue. But I swear, we don’t all do it!
    I just try to educate the next generation; my 4 year old sons chat about Daleks (pronounced correctly!) to random strangers.

    And, “LES-ter.” 🙂

  3. John Locke says:

    Awesome. How come they call the Darlek creator DavRose too? Very strange.

  4. STLShawn says:

    I never learned my alphabet from a to zed 🙂

    Ahhh I love accents and the images that can be formed from the users of different dialects 🙂

    I am lucky enough to have grown up in an area where there a distinct number of different accents flowing through the streets, but the main voice from my city was a fast talking “rust belt, blue collar” sort of combination.

    Now I am lucky enough to travel into the deep south of the US and hear the wonderful lilt in the voices there. Such a beautiful sing-song quality to their voices, and come back to Saint Louis and hear the Northern fast and furious chomping of words.

    Wouldn’t things be so boring if all were painted the same color?

  5. Simon Brett says:

    Thank you, sir! I’ve mentioned this on both the Blue Box Podcast and on the radio show! It’s not the fact that people have different dialects or accents – it’s the fact that there is no basis for pronouncing it differently, unless you’re reading the word phonetically. I could excuse someone who has literally (No joke intended) only ever READ the word and not heard it, much like Target novelizations led me to mispronouncing Mandragora Mandra-GORE-ah, but that’s pretty unlikely in these days of mass distribution and multimedia. Meanwhile I’m off to my personal bunker made of pure aloominum.

  6. Doc Whom says:

    “Wouldn’t things be so boring if all were painted the same color?”

    Yes. So I also propose the introduction of Paradigm Fans.

    Those Doctor Who fans whose preference is for the sci-fi aspects of the show could have their skin tattooed orange.

    Fans who play strategy games could have their skin tattooed blue.

    We could have blue tattoos for those fans who drone on and on about how DT should have lit the Olympic flame.

    Those mere handful of DW fans with a superiority complex could wear white clown make-up.

    And those DW who’ve never really worked out what they want to do with their lives could have yellow skin paint.

  7. Doc Whom says:

    Oops red for the droners, I meant.

  8. Jason says:

    There’re lots of problems with this, unfortunately!

    For one thing, Americans properly pronounce r when it’s before another consonant. We British people don’t (though we may think we do) – we use it as a marker to lengthen the preceding vowel. (We pronounce it before another vowel – compare ‘there’ in isolation with the ‘r’ pronounced in the expression ‘there is’.) So I, as a UK southerner, say Daalek. I’m not making a ‘r’ sound. Put an r in the spelling and you’ll have Americans and Scots saying ‘Darlek’, where the third sound in the word is like the r in murder (in an exaggerated form, think of Taggart’s cliche ‘There’s been a murrderr.’). Alas, by solving one problem, you’ve created another. 🙁

    There isn’t even consistency within Doctor Who itself. In Victory, Bill Paterson’s character says a very short ‘a’ in Dalek, which sounds very odd. He says he invented them. Yet no one else in the story – Churchill and the others must have got their pronunciation from him – says it like that. They all say Daalek. Like they learned how to say the word from the script, or from watching Doctor Who on telly. 🙂

    And then there’s Father of Mine in Family of Blood. He has a most unusual pronunciation of TARDIS, I seem to recall, when he tells the Doctor that he has acquired said item.

    I am also reminded here of a northern British TV presenter introducing the next program as ‘Buffy’, saying it with a northern ‘u’ (‘u’ as in ‘pull’). ‘Boofy’. Is that wrong? I’m not sure it is.

    The answer, I’m afraid, is that we subconsciously alter new words to fit our dialectal speech patterns. We can’t control language.

    Sorry, you’re probably not cheered by this negative response. I don’t mean to moan, or to be taken seriously – I’m just being a picky Doctor Who fan (and a linguist). Oh, and I love the example of Hermi-own, by the way. 🙂

  9. docwhom says:

    Jason, “Boofy” would be a Northern “u” as in “goofy” rather than “pull” surely.

    But my point about the word “Master” still applies. Long before I came across the Vampire Slayer, I’d spent years being told on Northern trains that “the boofy car is now open for snacks and light refreshments, tha knows.”

    Anyway, I’d rather have the leaders of the Free World (and their southern neighbours in the USA) pronouncing the R in Darleks than saying Dalliks. We could pretend that they were from the West Country.


    At a pinch we could change our demands to the word being spelled Dahlek but then we’d have to change Thal to Thahl. And that would look silly. The BBC might think our campaign merely trivial.

  10. Gareth Kavanagh says:

    Actually, Rassilon himself says The MA’STER in the End of Time. A fine northern chap is the father of time lord society….

  11. Bazzza says:

    I would just like to point out that Leicester Square was originally spelled Lester Square. It was the Americans who kept insisting that it had to have ice in it.

  12. KevinCV says:

    I’m American, and it kinda makes me cringe when one of my non-Whovian friends pronounces “Dalek” as “Dar-lek”. I try to pronounce it the way I heard it, which is “Dah-lek”. Granted, I’ve had years of practice to make sure it rolls off of my tongue easier, but still! There’s no “r” in it! Why the frell would you put a non-existent “r” in something just to make it pronounceable for you? I swear, we Americans are really lazy… 🙁

  13. Noell says:

    Well there’s one huge problem with that theory. Americans pronounce the ‘r’. So if you changed it to darlek, you would get a lot of southern twang ‘darrr-lik’ trust me, it would make it worse. And really it’s not that we cant pronounce it right, or dont know how. We’re just not used to dragging out that eh vowel sound before the constant. Dalik is just us saying ‘dalek’ in a really fast, lazy way.

    • Noell says:

      Also northern americans have a very different accent. They would probably be the worst with saying ‘dah-lik’ because they hit that long ‘a’ vowel hard in most words.

  1. February 8, 2013

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