One of my lecturers (in TESOL!) asked me ‘why does your voice keep going up at the end like that? I can’t tell when you’re asking a question’ and then kind of smirked. This was in front of the whole class in the middle of a lecture. Super embarrassing and frustrating. English isn’t my first language and uptalk is something I’ve apparently adopted without realising.
My son’s American accent was relentlessly (and badly) mocked and imitated in his secondary schools here in London, and it made him absolutely miserable. This naturally made the other kids do it more. He has taken badly against the country as a whole as a result – a stereotyping overreaction in itself. Prejudice begets prejudice. He hates it here and can’t wait to be old enough to move away.
I know lots of people on here might think this is ridiculous, but I was badly bullied at school for sounding ‘posh’. Do, next time you think an RP accent is a privilege and a ticket, think again. It made me miserable.
I went to Oxford university in the 90s from a state comp in the home counties. I had never really met anyone who had a different accent from my own so (like many people, I now know), assumed I had ‘no accent’. As soon as I arrived there, I was ridiculed for my accent and told I was an ‘Essex girl’ by my mainly middle class privately and grammar-educated peers (actually I spoke something like Estuary English, I guess). I remember sitting next to a professor one evening who expressed amazement to meet someone with a regional southern accent at dinner. I was told that it was sad that I sounded so awful in English while my French accent was beautiful (I was studying languages). This deeply affected me and I gradually began cleansing my speech and assimilating. It makes me sad that I felt that I had to do that. I now sound just like those people who ridiculed me. I had a couple of friends (also from comps), who did not lose their regional accents and continued to be victimised. Interestingly, it seemed to be better for people with Welsh or Scottish accents which were somehow classless.
Mine started a long time ago. When I started at Oxford in the late 80s someone told me, ‘You can’t possibly be studying English at Oxford with an accent like that!’ This came hot on the heels of a teacher at a study week telling me ‘The northern accent is generally associated with being thick.’ I now teach on the outskirts of Birmingham and it’s lovely listening to some of my A level language students who are really proud of their accent despite the prejudice they encounter. Same kind of things I was getting back then.
I recently taught a class observed by half a dozen teacher trainees – a regular occurrence, as I’m one of the more qualified and experienced staff at my place of work. Afterwards I welcomed questions from the trainees, the first of which was “Where did you learn to speak English so well? You can hardly tell you’re not from here, well done.” I wish I could say it was the first time someone has congratulated me on not sounding like where I come from, as if it was my biggest life achievement. I’m Polish by birth but have been speaking English since preschool and living in the UK for over a decade. I’m so fed up with the “where are you from” questions that unless I risk being rude, I avoid giving a direct answer. I also tell my students their accent is their identity and they should be proud of it.
My friend, a year 1 teacher, got negative feedback after being observed teaching phonics. ‘Overriding her north London accent’ was recorded as her main moving on point.
Today I spoke to a GP who said that if they heard a Scottish accent from a new patient, they would know that this person had a problem with alcohol or drugs. They said this was not prejudice, but merely a reflection of the location where their practice is based, and the fact that in their experience, 100% of the Scottish people in this location have issues with alcoholism or other substance abuse.
They didn’t seem to follow my argument that even if they had encountered 100 people who were Scottish and had such issues, deciding in advance that the 101st person with a Scottish accent was also likely to have such issues was prejudice and akin to racial/ethnic profiling.
Academia is not the natural home of working-class Belfastians, and certainly not in England. I’m sure I lost out on lectureships because I refused to anglicize my voice. I’ve been sniggered at by students, told I’m Irish, asked when I moved to the UK from Ireland, had it assumed that I’m stupid because we’re treated by many GBers as if we’re worthless trash, treated with apprehension because the person only associated my accent with the rendered violence they saw on the news, had it assumed I’m a lush because they think I’m Irish and that the Irish are mad drunks, been asked which ‘side’ I’m on (i.e. Protestant or Catholic), and am never done having to repeat myself because Geordies can’t seem to understand me even though I enunciate clearly and speak slowly for them without them doing the same for me.
While working as a waitress in Spain I was once asked by a fellow Englishman if I had ferrets and lived on a farm because I was from the north.
Also while working at the same job another English customer told me ‘oh, you’re actually quite intelligent despite your stupid northern accent’.
While working as an English teacher in Spain, a student once asked me why I didn’t ‘autocorrect myself and at least try to speak in standard English’.