Stories

Shelley

I am an undergraduate at the University of Oxford. I have a strong accent, as I come from Bradford. Since arriving at university, where the vast majority of people’s voices ring with the supposedly dulcet tones of RP, I have constantly experienced problems due to my accent. I have been asked to ‘speak properly’ by tutors when speaking in tutorials. I have been mocked by other students due to my pronunciation of certain words. I have been told that I will never get a job if I do not allow my accent to ‘mellow’- i.e. conform. In a progress meeting with tutors, I was told that my presenting skills needed work. I am a confident and skilled presenter: they just couldn’t understand or wouldn’t try to understand my accent.

Cordobés

Mi pueblo es significativamente seseante  con ciertos rasgos de jejeo. En primer lugar, el jejeo ha sido siempre atacado y vapuleado desde los centros educativos por ser considerado «cateto, paleto y obsoleto al ser un rasgo de analfabetismo», por otro lado he visto como gente de mi generación ha sido adoctrinada por sus propios progenitores para que hicieran clara distinción entre c,z y s, con el pretexto de que ese uso diferenciado denota un mayor grado de educación, llegando algunos incluso a sentirse superiores por ser capaces de distinguir las tres letras a la hora de ser pronunciadas. Al trasladarme a Granada a estudiar, las personas horiundas de mi zona que no distinguían entre c,z y s comienzan a hacerlo desesperadamente (la distinción entre estas letras en la capital granadina ha aumentado en los últimos años de forma vertiginosa gracias al impulso de las generaciones más jovenes). Si hablamos ya de mis experiencias propias fuera de Andalucía he tenido que soportar (junto con otros amigos procedentes de provincias como Sevilla o Cádiz) la provocación de ciertos individuos que de repente deciden que les apetece insultar a los andaluces por analfabetos, por tener una dicción incomprensible y ser una vergüenza para el resto de españoles en el extranjero. No obstante, he de resaltar que la opinión de los amigos extranjeros sobre nuestro acento está en las antípodas: al hablar en inglés suelen decir que tenemos un acento andaluz precioso, atractivo, interasente e incluso que nuestro uso del seseo tiene «musicalidad» y es único. Espero que los fervientes castellanos nunca se enteren de este dato último, vaya que de repente el acento andaluz pase de ser horrible a una maravilla española y olé.

Maiko

Hablando de tener acento andaluz y de cómo, al hablar mucho por teléfono en el trabajo, trataba de neutralizar un poco el acento para que me entendieran mejor:

«Pero entonces, si sabes hablar bien, ¿por qué hablas así?»

No se me olvidará en la vida.

Valérie

Je suis du sud ouest de la France et je me souviens d’une visite dans un musée parisien avec mes élèves anglais (à ce moment-là, j’étais prof en Angleterre). Je suis allée à la consigne du musée pour voir si les élèves pouvaient y laisser leurs sacs à dos.

La jeune femme ne me comprenait pas ou à peut-être voulu se payer ma tête. Je me suis donc mise à parler anglais et lui ai demandé de parler à sa chef. Quand elle a entendu mon accent en anglais, elle n’a plus su quoi faire. Très humiliant, dans ton propre pays…

Maggie

My husband is from the south east and I am from a northern coastal town. He HATES my accent. At first, I think he thought it was novel and interesting, but now he corrects at least one word from every sentence I utter. My pronunciation of grass/bath is often the target, but recently the way I (have always) not emphasised a ‘t’ at the end of a word absolutely disgusts him. It’s a big issue.

I haven’t experienced this sort of accent annoyance before – I attended a ‘middle class’ university (according to the dean in our welcome speech) and other students found me difficult to understand, or would laugh at everything I said, assuming northerners were all comedians… but no one was ever insulting or derogatory about it to my face. In fact, some of my tutors would make an effort to encourage me to speak and one in particular, who also had a northern accent, would compliment me on the ‘correct’  pronunciation of words!

Lyric

I was 9 in 1980 when I moved from Barcelona to Flix, a small village in Tarragona where a different variety of Catalan is spoken. In the beginning I was made to read out loud from the books in school because my accent was ‘better’ than theirs. It didn’t take me long to pick up the local accent and vocabulary.

A year later I moved back to Barcelona and started in a new school, where I was laughed at until I lost the non standard accent.

Liz

So I am northern Italian, which is already a bit of a strange accent for Italy (long vowels, many consonants fall, etc.), then I moved to England and lived first in Yorkshire where my best friend is from, and then in Oxford, but with two Irishmen and a Scot in the house, and then I met my future husband who is a Welshman raised in Norfolk. The result? After four years in England, I developed what has been recently defined by a friend of mine a ‘Eurotrash’ accent, with bits of Irish, Northern, Scot pronunciation scattered here and there across my fake-RP.

That said, I love English Northern pronunciation and every day that passes I am more and more tempted to ditch the stupid RP and just go for my northern mash!

Lily

I’m a French academic who has recently relocated to Belfast. Visiting friends in England recently, I was joking about starting to have a Northern Irish accent, especially when I say Belfast. The Englishman opposite me said “this has to be avoided at all cost”.

Mrs Sandra Hinton

I am from the Black Country. Yes, everyone thinks that I am a Brummie but you know different.

However, the accent to an outsider is very much the same.

I have moved from a working class area to quite a posh area and I was actually asked once ‘Oh, you live in Hagley…..?’ err Yes, I know where I live (my accent does not reflect my social status….How can I possibly live in this area….how could I possibly afford it??)

I have moved again to Malvern and if another person in Waitrose or any other shop for that matter asks me if I am on my holidays I think I will scream!! I am sure that they must send the security guard  following me as someone who speaks like me must be a shoplifter!!

So, so cross about the accentism in this town, making me out to be ugly or uneducated.

I am actually a solvent, successful business woman but I am made to feel inferior to my neighbours and fellow residents. I did think about getting ‘accent reduction’ lessons but realised if I spoke differently, I would no longer be ‘me’

What would you do?…..I want to be able to give a meaningful response when I am asked if ‘I am on my holidays’ without being rude or cross and I would like to point out that I am not ashamed that I come from a working class background. I will always feel inferior and that I do not belong because only of my accent. It is a shame to have to face discrimination every day that I shop or chat to the locals but I can’t see anything changing anytime soon.

Anon

A dementia client who has a northern accent is spoken to by a southern nurse.

The nurse uses a fake sounding northern accent each time during communication.

Is the dementia client being patronised?