It's all wight to be a Woss

by JO WILLEY, Daily Mail

Jonathan Ross has made a joke out of it and other celebrities have not found it a hindrance to their careers.

Ross suffers from a 'weak R' which means he cannot pronounce the letter, uttering a 'W' sound instead.

The condition - which means he says his name as Woss - was once considered a serious speech defect.

But now, perhaps because of the example of Ross and others including EastEnders actress Barbara Windsor, comic Paul Whitehouse and Radio 1 disc jockey Sara Cox, it has lost much of its stigma.

The reduced social pressure, researchers found, means that millions of Britons are using a 'weak R' without embarrassment and have not had speech therapy to correct the defect.

Previously, children who grew up taking with a weak Rs were mercilessly teased about their speech.

They escaped the mockery by either simply growing out of the condition by their teenage years or having intensive speech therapy.

Dr Paul Foulkes, a linguistics lecturer at the University of York, who led the research, said: 'Using a weak R is something that children do naturally.

'It may be that teenagers are no longer getting rid of that element of childhood speech because it is no longer stigmatised.'

Dialectologists carried out interviews to study the use of the weak R and found that at least one in 20 people uses it regularly in speech.

There is no definitive reason but experts believe that the stigma has been significantly reduced by celebrities who have succeeded despite having the condition.

'It is certainly more widespread and it does seem to be a recent phenomenon,' added Dr Foulkes.

'It used to be regarded as a speech defect or a way of talking associated with upperclass fops.

'For some reason, it is being increasingly noticed in areas around the country.'

Cockney stereotypes in London gangster films such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, where characters often have the trait, may be the answer.

'One suggestion is that it might be because it is associated with the South-East,' said Dr Foulkes.

'Cockney stereotypes do have a certain cachet and one possibility is that people are picking up on the way of talking of people who have a certain prestige.

'Some comedians speak in that way, and so do a number of musicians.'

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