Notes on Pygmalion Themes

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Pygmalion Topic Tracking: Language


Language 1: Shaw condemns the English language as a phonetic mess, without a standard spoken form, and says that the spoken dialects of English exacerbate class lines. He suggests that phonetic reforms should be considered.

Act 1

Language 2: The flower girl spontaneously calls the gentleman, who knocks her flower basket out of her hands, Freddy, as a polite address. This use of the name Freddy is unfamiliar to the upper class and his mother disturbed that the flower girl knows her son's name.

Language 3: The flower girl guesses that she is suspected of soliciting because she called a man Captain. She does not know if that address has any other implications in upper class English.

Language 4: The phonetician can guess the origin of every man in the crowd by his accent. He offends a gentlewoman by revealing that she comes from a less reputable part of London than she would like people to know.

Language 5: The phonetician makes his living by schooling those who want to move up the social ladder in the appropriate alteration of their English accent and usage.

Act 2

Language 6: Eliza's first public test is somewhat of a flop as far as the details of speech go. She talks about the weather in barometrical terms and relates a lurid story, which involves her father pouring gin down her aunt's throat. If that was not enough to give her away, she swears as she goes out the door.

Act 3

Language 7: The Ambassador's wife greets Eliza as she arrives at the Embassy party, and is intimidated by her perfect English salutation, which puts her "How d'ye do?" to shame.

Act 5

Language 8: Higgins waxes philosophical, when arguing with Eliza about whether she should continue to stay with him or not. However, much of his speech fails to move her. In the end he decides that he has wasted his "Miltonic mind" on her and tells her to decide for herself.


Language 9: Shaw decides not to leave the conclusion of his play up to his audience's imagination. He says the surplus of romance novels with predictably happy endings has enfeebled many people's minds. It is his power as the writer to give his story a unique and perhaps more meaningful ending.

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