Teaching My Fair Lady how to speak Yinglish


Present-day audiences know My Fair Lady best through George Cukor’s 1964 film adaptation, but these parodies were contemporary with the stage production and its unprecedentedly popular cast recording. Their central conceit will be obvious to anyone familiar with the originals: All three translate the struggle over linguistic difference, which is at the heart of the play and musical alike, into the dialects of their respective milieus. There is no doubt that Shaw’s intent was to present the political and cultural faces of such a struggle as well as the comic one; it is less evident that this intent survived Pygmalion’s own transformation into a glossy, tuneful Broadway property—or that it was recognized by My Fair Lady’s vast midcentury audience. Understanding what it meant for the Queen’s English of Shaw’s play to pass through Lerner and Loewe’s show tunes and emerge in Brooklynese, Yinglish, and Canadian requires learning the local vocabulary: Versions of once-standard songs must be compared, locations mapped, allusions glossed, and jokes explained.

more from Franklin Bruno at Triple Canopy here.