What’s the big deal about mocking someone’s accent?

As a society, we’re getting better at not being dicks to each other. It’s a slow progression, but some hurdles have been royally leapt: women can vote, homosexual couples can adopt, and ethnic minorities legally have access to the same goods and services as everybody else. Of course, we still deal with individual douche-canoes mouthing off at people because of their sexuality, gender identity, race, ability, age, body shape or a million other things; institutionalised prejudice hasn’t been eradicated; and prejudice is still enacted on a micro-level, often not from a malicious footing, but as the product of a society still breaking free of intolerant belief systems (that blasted patriarchy!). I’ve painted a cheery picture there, haven’t I? … but in general, while things are by no stretch of the imagination fixed, in most ways they’re getting better, and we’re a lot sounder to each other than we used to be.

Not, I would argue, when it comes to class. Class is something of a dirty word these days – we’re either too embarrassed to talk about it (“How gauche! To talk about money and social positions!”), or we believe we’ve superseded it (“We’re all middle class now”, came the cry from the New Labour camp upon election in 1997). I’m afraid that’s bollocks. While we still have caricatures of ‘chavs’ on television; while the richest 1% of people in the UK have as much wealth as 60% of the rest of the population combined[1]; while we still have benefit recipients universally derided as ‘scroungers’ in the mainstream press (and in opinion polls), we still have a class system in place, whether we’re talking about it or not. While I don’t think there should be a class system in place, ignoring that we have one isn’t going to make it go away.

There are many ways in which class judgements can be articulated, the majority of which I am not in any way well versed enough to write on[2] – but one of the ones I might be is language policing. That chavs don’t talk proper, innit. As with the majority of my blog posts, this one comes complete with OPINIONS and FEELINGS – you’ve been warned.

I reckon language and accent mockery and judgement is one of the last bastions of acceptable, overt prejudice. People mock each other’s accents all the time, in conversation, on television, and in print. Comments about people’s accents are often just a euphemism for class-based prejudices it would be improper to state more bluntly. “That woman sounds like she’s poor and ill-educated” – no. “She’s got a common, chav accent/Scouse is a horrible accent/she’s not even speaking English” – these are the kind of things you hear quite frequently. Mocking someone’s language is a helpful euphemism – a linguistic fig leaf, if you will – allowing shitty judgements and belief systems to go relatively unchallenged.

However, highlighting someone’s linguistic prejudice is often greeted with accusations of being oversensitive, and talk of “accent prejudice” followed by scoffs and eyerolls.  I can understand it – it doesn’t seem as severe as other douchebaggery, and in a real sense it’s probably not. But it does matter.

I hear the same excuses over and over:

1. “But it’s only an accent!” Accents are far, FAR more important than you might think when it comes to Getting On. Yes, we live in an age where BBC newsreaders aren’t restricted to a certain type of accent, and public figures like Professor Brian Cox, Paddy McGuiness and John Bishop (sporters of Mancunian, Lancashire and Liverpudlian accents respectively) are frequently featured on primetime. But if we’re more accepting of regional and multicultural accents, why are elocution lessons still on the rise? Although many carry a positive connotation (hence the choice to house many call-centres in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the accent being widely considered to be a friendly and approachable one), non-standard accents still carry an awful lot of stigma.

A damaging amount, actually. Even the most recent of studies – which led to ITV dedicating a Tonight programme to the issue – show that people still judge regional accents, with 28% of respondents feeling discriminated against because of their accent, and 80% of employers surveyed admitting to discriminating on the grounds of accent[3]. Previous studies have seen a person considered to be “significantly more guilty” of a crime having given evidence in a Brummie accent, compared to giving the same evidence with a Southern accent [4]. Likewise in the States, one researcher placed calls to landlords in white, African American and Latin American English accents, finding the latter two invited far more discrimination in finding housing[5]. This isn’t fiddle-faddle – people honestly think, in a simulated court of law, that a person is more likely to have committed a crime if they speak in a Birmingham accent – not based on the content of their speech, but how it’s pronounced. That’s not only bonkers, it’s a bit scary. Accent judgement has a real, tangible effect on people’s lives.

2. “But it’s just my opinion!” Yes, it’s your opinion, but it sucks. Other prejudices can’t be absolved by people just adding “…in my opinion” to the end. When some terrible homophobic member of congress says that gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry because they are a threat to children and it will result in homosexuality being taught in schools (before drunkenly crashing his boat into a bunch of kids [6]), he’s stating his opinion. And he’s also being horrible. How do you think it makes someone feel when you express disgust about the way they speak, something they can’t easily change, are born into, and are often proud of, it being an emblem of their upbringing? Yes, it’s your opinion, but it’s also mean. And perpetuating negative stereotypes about people based on their accent leads to more general poor treatment, as seen above.

3. “But they’re not talking properly!” What is “talking properly”? Most people would agree, including the people who write dictionaries, that the right way of pronouncing a word in British English generally matches the way a South-East English speaker would[7]. The standard accent is something akin to Received Pronunciation – though modernised – whose speakers are thought of as saying things correctly. An accent like Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen’s, for example. Everything else is deviant.

But who do you think invented this idea of a “standard” way of speaking (and writing)? DING DING DING, that’s right – a very small group of rich, powerful, Southern white dudes! It’s a common adage that history is written by the winners, and the same is true of linguistic history. Upon the arrival of the printing press in England in 1476, it was soon decided that the wildly disparate English spelling system needed reining in, and decades of grammar books, dictionaries and pronunciation guides followed. The people who wrote these tended to be the most powerful, in positions of higher education, often males (but not exclusively), who lived in the South. As such, they wrote down their own way of speaking as the “right” way, thus abandoning all others to the realm of non-standard. Their version wasn’t inherently better at communicating or more correct, it was just in the right place at the right time, and was therefore eternally considered to be so. People in the north, for example, haven’t been speaking “incorrectly” for centuries, it was just decided at an arbitrary point that they were Doing Talking Wrong.

4. “But I can’t understand them!” Ooh, this one riles me up. To put it briefly: if you can correct them, you can understand them. Consider the following exchange:

#1 – “I’m goin’ shop”
#2 – “You mean you’re going to the shop – I can’t understand what you mean if you say that!”

The whole response is entirely paradoxical; how can you ‘correct’ someone’s grammar, inserting words they’ve omitted, and follow that by saying that you didn’t understand what they meant? I put it to you, either you’re not trying hard enough, or you’re just saying that to belittle someone. “In many cases…breakdown of communication is due not so much to accent as it is to negative social evaluation of the accent in question, and a rejection of the communicative burden” – Rosina Lippi-Green[8]. Which leads me on to my next point…

One of the things that gets my goat is when people do this:

kelly 2  kelly 3(Image source and a video link of the scene, with more examples here)

This is Kelly, from the TV show Misfits. She’s portrayed as a working class delinquent, completing a community service order, with a potty-mouth and a violent streak. As you’ve probably noticed, Kelly’s accent is written out phonetically in the transcripts above. But why? She’s saying the same words as you and I are, but hers are spelt out orthographically in a non-standard way. Robert Sheehan – the guy with the curly hair in the right gif – speaks with an Irish English accent, but his isn’t spelt out any differently. In fact, by this measure, all accents should be spelt out phonetically, as they’re all giving particular pronunciations of words.

But they’re not. Only certain accents are chosen to be spelt out like this – more often than not, accents like Kelly’s. This suggests that Kelly is not talking properly, that she’s somehow incorrect. By doing so, the way Kelly speaks (incidentally, with a broad urban Derbyshire accent) is portrayed as abnormal.

socha tweet 1
Lauren Socha – the actress who plays Kelly – responds.

The idea that non-standard varieties of English are inarticulate is long-standing.  Tony Crowley, in his book Standard English and Politics of Language, discusses early 20th Century division of people into ‘the articulate and the barbarians’[9], the latter being incomprehensible to the former. Non-standard speakers’ contributions are reduced from language to mere noise, and are therefore to be ignored; this allowed people to discredit the content of their speech based on its structure, considering it not worthy of time or consideration. When non-standard accents like Kelly’s are ‘translated’ to and from English, it reinforces this idea that their speech is defective, and therefore, if the speaker can’t even articulate themselves correctly, they can’t possibly have anything to contribute that’s worth listening to.

Some have said to me that it’s done from a place of affection, of celebration, and this could be true of things like dialect books and dictionaries, where local pronunciations are written out phonetically. But it’s tied up in and contributes to a bigger picture, one where regional and international accents of English are mocked and derided; one where speakers can be less likely to get certain jobs because of their accent (regardless of their intelligence or suitability); one where people with these accents feel the need to change them, and have internalised the stigma about their own accents to the point where they hate the way they speak. And that sucks.

Yes, having a standard is often useful, and allows for relatively easy communication on a global scale. However, variation shouldn’t be belittled, patronised and wiped out. You’ve probably seen the recent news stories about schools in Middlesborough and South London, whose teachers decided that they were going to try and quash regional pronunciation and vocabulary items; or stylised dictionaries of ‘chavspeak’ which have a dig at the kind of multicultural Englishes we see popping up in London and Manchester[10].

Non-standard accent and dialect features are interesting, valid, and often have a long regional history, not to mention being incredibly important to the speakers using them – and nobody should be made to feel bad for the way they speak. Someone’s accent is an integral part of who they are, and criticising it is kind of a dick move, wrapped up in long-standing classism. So don’t! Judge people on what they say, not how they say it.

[1] From a helpful and informative video here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/video/2013/oct/08/inequality-how-wealth-distributed-uk-animated-video
[2] If you’re interested, I’d start with Owen Jones or Danny Dorling if I were you.
[3] http://www.itv.com/news/2013-09-25/28-of-britons-feel-discriminated-against-due-to-accent/
[4] Dixon, John, Mahoney, Berenice & Cocks Roger (2002) Accents of guilt? Effects of regional accent, ‘race’ and crime type on attributions of guilt. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 21:2, pp. 162-168.
[5] Purnell, Thomas, Idsardi, William & Baugh, John (1999) Perceptual and phonetic experiments on American English dialect identification. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 18:1, pp. 10-30.
[6] Yeah, that happened.
[7] Though, of course, there are those who fervently state that a localised version is the “correct” way! [EDIT: This originally read “South-West” because Hannah is a numpty]
[8] If you get a chance to read any of English With an Accent, Lippi-Green’s book, PLEASE do. It’s ace, and covers with more knowledge than I am able discrimination of people with non-native English accents, which is incredibly important.
[9] Crowley, Tony. (1989) Standard English and the Politics of Language. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 180.
[10] See the work of Paul Kerswill and Rob Drummond for details.

108 responses to “What’s the big deal about mocking someone’s accent?

  1. great post. I will be more mindful to not commit that dick move! Judge people’s choices not their inheritances.

  2. This is very useful reading for everyone and I am glad to see Lippi-Green being cited. She talks about “accent filters” people have. The filters start to work as soon as somebody speaks. The other thing is the definition of “accent” itself. Many people think that they do not have accent!!

  3. As always, engaging and thoughtful Hannah. The issue of accents came up in when we were studying drama made in the Midlands/North of England in the 60s a couple of weeks ago – unfortunately the discussion devolved into a lot of “god, those accents are just incomprehensible” comments. I did my best at the time to interject but I feel like leaving carefully placed printouts of this on the desk next week.

  4. Very interesting article, and I could not agree more. I was fascinated to discover that what some people think of as poorly educated English slang, such as ‘I’ll learn you’ instead of ‘I’ll teach you’ and ‘gan on’ for ‘go on’ in the NE are in fact throw back to ancient times and reflect the old Germanic words ‘lernen’ for ‘teach’, and ‘gehen’ for ‘gan’. There are many more examples. They are a truly authentic and historical legacy to be treasured rather than derided. Received English is so soulless and dreary compared with regional accents (I say that as someone who is not from the UK).

    • Not SUCH ancient times, Marie-Ora! The NE was settled by vikings, remember. Today in Norway the word for “teach” is almost the same as our “learn”; that’s where it would have come from.

  5. I’m in the US. near Raleigh, NC. For an instant, when I read the title and first few sentences of your post, I thought you were an American. We(Americans) have the same hang ups about accents in a substantial uninformed and narrow minded segment of our population. The Scottish accent of my great great grandfather has long since disappeared through the generations….not to mention native accents of my French, German, and English, et. al. ancestors. I have what I like to think is a pleasant Southern accent.which evolved over several centuries from an influence of British colonists and African slaves primarily.. But venture north from here more than a few hundred miles and many of my Northern brethren consider the accent a sign of ignorance. And in many instances, my Northern friends are right. But there are countless others in the South that are at least reasonably well,educated. As our population becomes more integrated, differences in dialect are slowly fading away.The exception would be my in-laws, stuck in remote part of the mountains. With the exception of my wife, they are some of the most backward people I have known or likely will know.. As I see it though, as long as your heart is in the right place, it really doesn’t matter where you’re from, it only matters where you’re going. Really enjoyed your enlightening post.

    • I’m in Kentucky in the States. I was going to make a similar point as you as to how Northerners and others often regard people with Southern accents as ignorant. However, you stated it much better than I could.

      • I’m in the deep, deep South gentlefolks…From Mississippi and living in New Orleans. I, too, thought this was going to be about Southern United States accents too, for a moment. As an educated woman with a Southern drawl, little makes me annoys me more than someone making fun of the way I say “truck” with an elongated short u. Bless their hearts. ;)

      • I agree America shows this same class distinction and many others. I do not like the implication you give that as integration of culture develops the only accents left are those backward few, it seems to fall right into the class bias complaint. However, traditional accents have faded to be often replaced by actively created dialects not grown up in but chosen. The view of a southern drawl or twang as less educated and less intelligent persists strongly. As does the view of a Japanese accent implying both being from outside the USA and being a tech genius. People remain biased until they change how they think, changing the rules didn’t remove them.

    • deweydecimalsbutler

      I’m from Georgia, and if I wish to be taken seriously the I must neutralize my south-Georgia dialect. It’s especially important since I’m a literature teacher. Is it fair? No. But that’s the game I must play if I’m to be taken seriously in my profession. It does stink, though, especially since my dialect comes out more when I’m emotional, so it acts as a red flag.

      I’m glad to see this post and endorse it completely. Thank you.

      • Thank YOU! One of the most frustrating things is the knowledge that, while you disagree with the need to change your accent, you also know that’s how the system works, and – like you said – you have to play by its rules. I sometimes do the same thing!

  6. What interesting and helpful and informative video’s! Do you have a favorite?

  7. I totally agree. I did a project for English Language last year where I examined how accents are used in literature (those you’ll find written phonetically in Victorian literature for the most part) to show class, and examined how people reacted to them – how educated they thought the characters were etc. It was a very illuminating study for me, because I hadn’t really thought about it before. People tended to assume that strong accents meant characters were rural farm labourers, even though some of them were not.

    • This is an excellent point – literature is full of accents being written phonetically, but never a ‘standard’ accent, always a deviant one. Accents are so often used as shorthand (particularly in literature, and film, television and theatre) for a character being poor/rural/uneducated/parochial/etc. It’s an effective tool, because it works, but it also contributes further to long-standing prejudices against those kind of accents!

  8. I work in an amusement park and we get a load of foreigners with accents galore. We are taught never to make fun. In fact many of us have accents and we do not like to be criticized for them.

  9. I think it’s rather fun to mock someone’s accent.. well not “their” accent but their country’s accent. Well as you know one country can have a 500 different accents, it’s kind of fun for the mouth to do.. it kind of “Lights up the creativity”

  10. I will freely admit that I struggle with hearing and understanding what is stereotypically known as ebonics in the States.
    For example: Axe me a question.

    A dear friend of mine lives in Georgia. Her accent is very southern. It was endearing to hear her chastise her brother when she told him to “eee-nun-cee-ate” his words because he was just being ‘lazy’ and it was making him seem like a ‘redneck po folk.’ (Her words not mine).
    She may be southern, but there is nothing wrong with the way she thinks or speaks.

    ~ Darling

  11. Being a northerner who lives in the south (Ohio to North Carolina), I loved this post! My problem is, although I have always done this, I have a tendency to start speaking like the person I’m talking to. Two of my closest friends have thick, southern accents. When we are engaging in conversation, I always find myself slipping into ‘southern’ speak (As I call it). I check myself due to the fact that I’m always worried someone will think I’m mocking them, when I’m really not. It’s just something that always happens.

    • I do this too! Everyone basically accommodates to the speech around them, but certain people like you and I must just happen to be sponges for other people’s accent features. I also worry that people will think I’m mocking them accidentally – quite the opposite, it’s a compliment, really!

    • I’m also one of those people. I grew up in south eastern Ohio, which as you know may as well be deep West Virginia. When I moved to the Washignton D.C. area I worked very hard to lose the “twang”, because it was a tiring conversation starter. When I talk to my family, though, it shines through again. :)

  12. Interesting read. I never thought of accents like that before. I like how we have different and distinctive regional accents in the UK – it makes us all just that little bit more unique!

  13. Women can vote??!? Who allowed this to happen? Next thing you know, they’ll be allowed to hold jobs outside the house, and write blogs and such. One should only make fun of one’s friends’ accents, in fun, just like friends make fun of each other’s every flaw.

  14. Reblogged this on ruthrambles and commented:
    Wow, so it turns out that your NQT year isn’t really compatible with blogging.

    But it also turns out that spending all your time working isn’t really compatible with sanity either.

    So in an attempt to regain my sanity, I’ve been trying to get back into blogging recently. Annoyingly though, I’ve found myself completely incapable of picking a subject – it seems there is nothing but teaching in my brain these days. Earlier today I FINALLY decided on a topic, and on browsing the interweb for some opinions, discovered the following article on our attitude towards accents. Annoyingly, the author has said exactly what I wanted to say (and more), and it’s well worth a read if you’ve got the time. Determined not to be defeated though, I’ve added my two-penneth (is that the right phrase?) in the paragraph following this one – any excuse for a good rant. Sorry.
    As someone with northern parents, who grew up in the Midlands (on a somewhat related side note – despite what northerners / southerners variously think, this means I am neither a northerner nor a southerner. The clue is in the name) and now lives in the south, it frustrates me no end to have my accent corrected wherever I go. Just because someone speaks differently to you doesn’t mean that they speak incorrectly. Giggling or commenting every time I say “class” or “task” or “grass” with a short ‘A’ strikes me as slightly offensive and closed-minded. I can’t help my accent – it’s a part of me, it reflects my history and I like the added sense of “home” that it gives me. The way we speak is just another form of diversity, and diversity is there to be embraced not scorned. It brings with it the ability to learn about the world outside your own sphere and to gain a more balanced outlook on life – surely that can only be a good thing. Life would be boring if everyone looked, spoke, dressed and acted the same. If you want the people around you to be a carbon copy of yourself, move to North Korea.

    And besides, in my head, YOU’RE the one pronouncing it wrong ;)

  15. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong accent, but I wish Lauren Socha in your example had spelt ‘bred’ correctly. Accents we can’t (and shouldn’t have to) control, but it’s not unfair to make judgements based on basic spelling and grammar errors. Especially if you’re posting on a public forum and ESPECIALLY if you’re trying to make a point about not being thick.

    • I don’t know – I think the same thing applies to comments about non-standard spelling or grammar. Lauren’s point isn’t, and shouldn’t be considered, any less worthy than if she had spelt ‘bred’ in a standard way – I think picking out and ridiculing people’s grammatical “errors” is another way of belittling people, and dismissing their opinions, which they are fully entitled to have. I think it plays into the same kind of classism mentioned in this post to say that “it’s not unfair to make judgements based on basic spelling and grammar errors”. I think that *is* a bit unfair!

  16. While in the U.S, I had to show them my Passport to prove that I am in fact Australian just because I didn’t “sound” like the stereotypical Aussie. Even Australians ask me sometimes “where are you from”. Accents are individualistic more than nationalistic in my opinion.

    • That’s a good point – often, idiosyncratic quirks make a person’s accent stand out just as much as nationalistic ones. But regardless, if someone mocks it, it still sucks :D

  17. Great post hannah very important segment of our society .
    Thanks for highlighting it.

  18. Reblogged this on Love & everything in between and commented:

  19. A wonderful and informative read. And now that I think about it, its not just making fun of certain accents but also trying to adopt certain others just because they have a perception to be cooler. This is a not-so-subtle form of discrimination in-your-face.

  20. fuck it, just mind yo dem binez and accent. we are not the same

  21. Being a Northerner brought up in Bristol I’ve had to adapt my accent in order to succeed. I failed. Ian x

  22. People who, despite being exposed to the standard accent, still use their childhood regional accent, are deficient in education and IQ.

    However, the few who COULD modify their accent but work hard at preserving their childhood oik-speak in the company of standard speakers are inconsiderate boors.

    • Thanks for your comment. Obviously, considering the content of my post, I disagree with every single point you made, but I assume that was the point of leaving this comment in the first place.

  23. Gud video clipping to show soomthing in it. its eager to read quick now……..i read this!

  24. I will also be more careful. This is beautiful

  25. I hesitate to admit this, but I recognized this in myself. I always considered myself open and unbiased, but somehow these creeped their way in. Salvador Dali has long been my favorite artist, and I don’t think anyone will really argue that the guy is brilliant, a genius. I have always thought so, but admittedly never saw any video of him or heard him speak. I only knew him from his paintings and printed word. Maybe 10 years ago when youtube was filling up with videos was the first time I ever heard him speak, and that thick Spanish accent, the broken English. My brain had a bit of a struggle because I recognized the man as brilliant, but another part of my brain wanted to label the words and the accent and the less than perfect command of English in a derisive manner. I think I realized I had done this unintentionally for years, judging people particularly their intelligence based on their accent and their command of English. This isn’t fair, especially when English isn’t the person’s first language. English is tough for those of us who grew up with it. Eye opening. I strive to be fair and unbiased, and I’m not proud of that pattern I had, I never consciously subscribed to the notion that folks who struggle with English are not very smart, but there it was– smack dab in the middle of my brain– I hope I have been able to adjust or erase my preconceptions.

  26. Firstly, “douche-canoes” is the best insult I’ve seen in a while, kudos, and secondly, I completely agree! I drop my t’s because of my accent, and I’m frequently told I don’t speak properly. The same idea can be poorly articulated in RP, or fantastically described in a jumble of slurred vowels.

  27. Great post.

    Two related observations: Michelle Dockery, who plays an earl’s daughter on Downton Abbey (with a very posh accent) has a very different accent in real life. It’s an interesting shock, and reminder, how differently people speak and how hard some actors work to put on a different accent, (I feel sorry for Australians who have to sound like an American, for example.)

    I recently interviewed a woman whose Yorkshire accent was fantastic — but hell for me to understand over the phone. Sometimes it’s just difficult to hear what someone is saying — and be sure you are quoting them accurately — whether or not that thought is deemed politically correct.

  28. Interesting post. However, some of your examples seem to center on a bad use of English rather than an accent; the two are not the same.

  29. “Yes, it’s your opinion, but it sucks.” — Hilarious.

  30. Interesting. I’m from Los Angeles and I sound like most people on television. When I moved to the South, everyone told me I have an accent. But they have the accent! I guess we all have them. Personally I love accents, unless, of course, I can’t understand you at all. So dudes, let’s all grab our boards and hit the surf! Thanks!

  31. I love accents, I don’t mock them but I do try to imitate them in fun. I love the differences in people, how boring if we were all the same. The Scot’s accent is my fave.

    • Well, that’s actually not that much fun for someone who has to put up with being mocked constantly. Walk a mile or two in their shoes and see how it feels.

  32. Reblogged this on Paradisiac State.

  33. I grew up in India and have an accent to match. But, living in the tri-state area, my accent has rarely if ever been mocked.
    The few times someone has actually made fun of it, it has been a person of Indian origin who grew up in America. Wonder why that is.

    • Could be because it might be considered racist if someone else does it (and hence they refrain from doing it)… whereas someone of the same origin as you is more comfortable being explicit about it.

  34. herecomeslapinay

    What about those who use English as a second language? Immigrants too receives derogatory comments about their English accents whenever they move to an English speaking country.

    • I completely agree – I didn’t feel like I was qualified enough to comment on the prejudices that non-native speakers of English face in great detail, as I haven’t researched that extensively. But the same, if worse, prejudices exist for immigrants and other non-native speakers, and that’s awful, too. The Lippi-Green book I reference at the end is a brilliant resource for that stuff.

      • herecomeslapinay

        Thank you for the reference, not only immigrants experience this situation, ESL speakers working in an outsourcing environment are also prone to discrimination.

  35. I love this post. Language, communication and accents are such vital elements of culture! I’m Australian but lived in the UK for 5 years. I loved every new accent I came across as I traveled and worked from the north of Scotland to Bournemouth and Poole. Among my favourites were the Cornish, North Yorks and the Welsh accents! One of the saddest aspects of modern Australian culture is the loss of Indigenous language, accents and stories. If they are not preserved, we’ll be missing out on so much.

  36. The BBC may be a lot more accommodating of regional accents now, but they are still “mild”, television-friendly regional accents. If you visit the actual regions, they are a lot stronger.

  37. Excellent post- as a person who was picked on mercilessly as a child for having a welsh-scottish hybrid accent while living in South England, I salute all of your points heartily! :)

  38. Reblogged this on Blog spot of Benny.

  39. This is my first time reading other people’s blogs on WordPress. And it’s fascinating what topics people talk about. I have never read, seen or heard accents being tackled this seriously and in-depth. I guess people do tend to accept some forms of meanness as just normal. Here in the Philippines, we mock people who don’t have an American accent. But I guess we’re doing such a bad job of appreciating how our own beautiful language affects the way we speak other languages. Thank you for this wonderful article. I’ll try to be more sensitive when it comes to stuff as important but as seemingly simple as this.

  40. Reblogged this on There Was A Crooked Man and commented:

  41. I’m from Texas and I had a hard time understanding most everyone on Misfits and had to use subtitles anyway.

  42. Nice article, your opinion on jobs and accents is interesting , i agree with you can’t judge education on accents but in many jobs communication is important and if you haven’t had experience in listening to an accent it can be difficult to understand some words. i think a main issue is people don’t have the patience to deal with an unfamiliar accent and therefore jump to conclusions.

  43. I simply love your post! Oh my god! x

  44. A great article. I’m from Suffolk UK (very slight accent due to my Mum not wanting me to speak with a Suffolk accent) and my boyfriend is from Middlesbrough. We tease each other accents and can’t always understand certain words…oh, you mean….! Add to this regional slang and it makes for interesting conversations. I can agree with the North keeping Germanic language roots comment. My boyfriend pronounces words ‘correctly’ as in how they’re written and I the standard way for example glass: he says ‘glace’ I say ‘glarse’ or something like that! We now live outside the UK and I find at times my accent and pronunciation sound like his with words like two, hear(‘ear), here(‘ear) and have to stop myself, being a TEFL teacher and I want to keep mine. That said my English is ever evolving having lived Spain and now France and along the way picked up international English and I wouldn’t change it!

  45. ‘Everyone knows that different dialects can be a problem in any language. But accents can throw conversations off the rails just as readily as dialects or slang. Speakers of dialect usually know to switch to the relevant standard dialect when talking with outsiders. That’s only common sense. But they don’t always think to change their accents.

    ‘In England for the first time in 1963, more or less straight from home, I hitched a ride with a young Cornishman, and… Well, you can see where this is going. Mercifully, his English girlfriend was on hand to translate every single word spoken by both of us – one sentence at a time.
    So I learnt to drop all slang words, and all expressions peculiar to Queensland.’

    The above is from a blog-post of mine in July last year, titled “English as she is spoke” – available in the Archives. (By the way – a cute slang-word for English-speakers, used by the French residents of New Caledonia in the Pacific, was, when we lived nearby, “Poken”, pronounced English-style poe-ken. It came from the signs in shop windows for Australian cruise-visitors: “English S(poken)”. It IS cute, isn’t it?)

  46. I found this really interesting reading, as a New Zealander living in the UK people often rip the p*ss out of my accent. For the most part its funny, but things like being told you can’t speak to customers on the phone in case they think we’re an overseas call centre (oh, and that’s if they are even able to understand me *rolls eyes*), is not. Since being here I have found the different accents here fascinating, and more so the social stigma attached to some of them. I love a Birmingham accent myself, but round here, a Brummy accent is considered to ‘sound thick’. Outside of where we live, my husband is ribbed for ‘being a thief’ based solely on the way he speaks.

  47. It can be difficult sometimes to remember to listen to what people are saying other than how they sound saying it. I find you can miss a lot of what someone is actually saying by falling into this trap. Great article! Even I admit I have accent filters and zone out when I hear a certain one. I am trying to get away from that.

    Visit New Gen Journo for unbiased opinions on everything

  48. Brilliant, absolutely spot on. I was born in East Yorkshire but learnt to speak while living in West London, keeping a large part of the accent. At secondary school (and working as a waiter and receptionist) I always got called ‘posh,’ despite being born into a household receiving the same income, and often less, as those calling me names. The discrimination works the other way around if the shoes are swapped, and prejudice exists to say that “speakin’ proper” is just as wrong.

  49. Midwestern Plant Girl

    I think humans aren’t getting any nicer to each other, just being dicks in different capacities. Sad.
    Funny read, though!!
    Congrats on gettin’ pressed!!

  50. I really enjoyed reading this. I spent some time as a teacher in San Francisco and worked with a lot of Latino students. I saw many examples of those students and their parents being treated like idiots because they spoke with an accent. I also grew up in the southern US and know the stigma that comes with the “charming-but-stupid” southern drawl.

    Your writing style makes me think that we could stay up too late laughing about serious stuff over a pint or three. Well done.

  51. Last July I posted an article on my blog about accents, under the title “English as she is spoke”. My final paragraph is relevant to our present theme, although they were about my son and his Norwegian speech…
    “After a few years in Norway he could pass for Swedish, but he’s progressed beyond that now. Native Norwegians can’t PLACE his accent, though, which by the Henry Higgins rule ought to label him as foreign. Instead, they suppose he’s from somewhere up north, because all northern accents are regarded as barbaric.”

    The last bit is certainly true of England, as well! In the USA, it’s the reverse, isn’t it!

  52. scottprestonblog

    I’d like to see “gauche” make a comeback as a word it’s not used anywhere near enough.

    I kind of feel the accent thing is an unwinnable battle. Judgements work on all sides with the North judging the South and the poor dismissing the refined and vice versa. It’s almost impossible to not notice deviations from accents you are used to and certain associations will be developed with certain accents. Making these associations and profiling is a necessary part of socialising and surviving. I know it’s not nice to accept this a lot of the time but the trampy looking guy in the dark alley? There’s a reason you need to profile him.

    This profiling is not always a negative either. When we come across someone with a “working class” accent we know which register we should adopt to make them comfortable and thereby actually become more inclusive thanks to our prejudices.

    I think it would be nice to not judge people for their accents but really I’m not sure how that is possible because they’re not going away and I don’t see any solutions. I could lie to myself but I’m never going to meet someone with a “posh” accent and not make assumptions about them.

  53. thunderthoughtsgreekstyle

    …a very small group of rich, powerful, Southern white dudes! ….till you write that down, you had me, but when you wrote it, that was racist which is far more “dick” than criticizing someone for his accent…but nice try.:)

    • Thanks for your comment, but I think I’m going to have to disagree with your claim that I’m being racist here, for three reasons:
      1. The statement is accurate. Standards of English language WERE put in place by white men, for the most part. These were the men in positions of esteem in education, who worked in the courts, who worked for royalty – the decision makers. Only white men were in the position to regulate language (by making dictionaries and pronunciation guides and grammar books and the like), and so the standard became what they spoke. That’s accurate, historically.
      2. It’s not racist to point out that someone was white – I didn’t say anything pejorative or offensive about that fact, or that person, I just stated it.
      2. I’m not convinced your definition of racism is that hot. I don’t think it’s possible to be racist against white people, because racism involves structural oppression, which white people have never suffered. This is a really great explanation of what I mean: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw_mRaIHb-M&noredirect=1

      • thunderthoughtsgreekstyle

        Thank you for the reply. I will reply back with the order you put on your reply.
        1 plus 2. Regardless if the statement was accurate or not, there is no difference as what I said was that by saying…a very small group of rich, powerful, Southern white dudes!….you used the Words “Southern”, “white”, “dudes” and “!” and before that you were saying “DING DING DING”.
        Those words above construct the so called Reverse Racism.
        3. The definition of racism is one and can’t get cold through time or hot if its more recent in time.

        In conclusion and don’t get it wrong, you actually put yourself as a minority and by that you try to defend with a Reverse Racism your from start wrong point of view.

  54. My HMO once assigned me a Doctor with very strong accent. It was hard to understand him and I kept thinking how good a Doctor will he be if he can’t even speak English properly. He turned out to be the best Doctor ever.

    I believe class stratification helped us in Stone age, Hunter gatherer age, agricultural age and industrial age as all of then were labor intensive and boatload of people were required to ensure survival at first and then civilization. Now that it is no longer needed, it still continues because of not only old habit but because of benefits that still accrue with concomitant subjugation.

    • I’m glad you were able to look beyond the accent and accept him as your doctor. When I hear someone speak with an accent of a language other than English, I think no less of the person. In fact, I often admire the person for attempting to communicate in a second language. I am ashamed to admit, however; that when I hear an American speak English with a heavy Southern accent, something inside me starts pre-judging the person’s intelligence, and I have to tell myself not to do that. You know that saying that “Old habits die hard”? Well, accent and dialect prejudices can definitely be strong examples of that.

  55. I have the go to ‘take the mick out of’ accent. I’m Welsh. The worst culprit… my partner!

    The way I string a sentence of speech together may be different but people still understand the meaning. In my head, “I’ll do it now in a minute” makes perfect sense. I wouldn’t however write in such a colloquial Welsh form. Wouldn’t the world be dull if we were all the same.

  56. I actually enjoy listening to people speak with accents. It always makes me giddy because I think other cultures are so cool. Related, I feel rather ashamed when I can’t understand what someone is saying. In a way, I feel like something is wrong with me and I’m somehow invalidating them. I try really hard to pay attention to hand gestures and body language as well as the pieces I CAN pick up on, which makes it easier not to let on that it’s a bit difficult for me.

  57. Accents reflects where you come from, and in a way who you are… I remember trying to fight my French accent when I first came to Ireland. It faded away on its own but it was a real source of concern for me, I hated being “The French Girl” to everyone, I really felt like I was nothing but my nationality in some people’s eyes. Horrible experience.

  58. City Girl at the Edge

    Ah, this brings up memories for me. As a child I moved from California in the U.S. to Texas, and then back again. I picked up a Texas accent (a Southern U.S. drawl), and I paid dearly for it. Children were very cruel because I combined “you all” into one word, “y’all.”

    Unfortunately, stereotyping based on regional and foreign accents is alive and well here, as you point out.

    I am glad to have your blog.

  59. City Girl at the Edge

    *I am glad to have found your blog.

  60. I think I’m in love. Thank you for this Blog.

  61. I’m Native American. Texas father, Jewish and very well educated mother from Merrick, Long Island. I grew up from six-months-old, 1970 in Ascot, England and South France, then Harrow, Middx. With the cockney neighbors and most friends and family on late husband’s side till 2000.
    2001 I moved back to my place of birth, (Los Angeles, California) I’m fed up having to explain why I sound the way I do. Even after you tell them the logistics of being six bloody months old, my fellow Americans cannot grasp the wheel of basic sense, never mind common sense. My retort is one of either, “Yes, I’m sure when my IQ drops I’ll start to speak normally again.” Or “I’m not very bright and wasn’t fluent in the American vernacular at six months.”
    So I thank you indeed for this tid bit of, “I’m not alone.” validation of thinking it’s quite rude to mock someone’s intonations or judge them with a sweeping ridiculousness because of dialect.
    Ms. Faux Cockney Silliness of 2014

  62. Reblogged this on Amber's Blog and commented:
    Hello my fellow country men,
    Here’s today’s tidbit.

  63. Love this! I live in Central Virginia and within this state you hear/see examples of what you describe! Thanks for posting

  64. Well I believe I have read a great piece here. I’m glad the troll on the site I blog upon has made me aware of this blog.
    Yes, your work is being used to highlight the problem with “hierarchy” on Thoughts.com obviously because I have more Karma points than he has and he’s not getting his way.
    Now back to the subject, I’ve always been fascinated with British accents, as a foreigner, I see them all as simply fantastic. The thicker the accent the more I need to concentrate but the better the conversation for me. But whil some do attribute accents to class, people judge the whole person from the way we speak to the way we dress and react. I know most people will refuse to admit they heard the little bit of French accent left when I speak because I do not exhibit tell tale sign that I am French. Living in London, I’ll gravitate towards someone from the north just to hear the accent, so I guess I learned from a very young age that the way you speak doesn’t make you better or lesser than others. Great piece. Now if I remember how to follow, I’ll be on my way to do that! :D

  65. Hi, I really enjoyed reading that, thanks! I’ve just started my own research into dialect, and found an article entitled ‘Let’s Move to Chesterfield’ in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/aug/09/lets-move-to-chesterfield-derbyshire
    It’s a short, but fairly positive piece about Chesterfield – my hometown. One guy, who was born there but moved away, felt the need to comment several times about how sh*t the town is, criticising the accent as “….the worst accent in the UK”. He said, “imagine the least friendly parts of the Yorkshire accent mixed with the yod-dropping monotone burr of the Midlands, add a threatening delivery, and there you have it”. Obviously he’s not got fond memories of the place, and he attached this negativity to the accent.
    By the way, I recently told a new colleague at work about my research into the Chesterfield accent – his mouth dropped and he said, ‘someone’s allowing you to do THAT?!”, as in, what a waste of time. How rude (I’m obviously still not over that as feel the need to vent here)!

  66. There’s a lovely irony to the fact that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, the examples you cited for what we now consider modern received pronunciation, are both Northern lads themselves; they hail from Yorkshire and Lancashire respectively.

  67. Wow! This can be one particular of the most beneficial blogs We
    have ever arrive across on this subject. Actually Magnificent.

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  68. My best friend moved to London from India. She has an Indian accent. She can talk very good English though. She was mocked by her colleagues who are British of Indian origin. Ever since then, she is so scared to talk outside and she does not seem to get friendly with any of the British because of some kind of fear. I have tried different things but, none seem to work. It is sad people think high of themselves because of their accent.
    I will tell her to read your blog. Nice one.

  69. Thank you for your great post! I am a Vietnamese who immigrated to the U.S when I was 15. It was when I actually exposed to English even though I started learning English when I was 7 or 8. Like others, I still have an accent. Parents of one of the kids whom I had been teaching told my supervisor that they do not want a behavior technician who has an accent to teach their kid because the kid will imitate my language. I also got laughed at by my friends at school because of my accents and I feel sorry for them.

  70. Loved this. I am from Venezuela, I have an accent and today this guy was making fun of it. Ill kick his ass the next time! I feel so bad for the people that don’t understand.

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