Stories

Edith

I was once marked down by a lecturer in Austria for speaking with a Yorkshire accent instead of RP in an EFL class. English is not my native language. Now I have a Welsh accent from when I did my PhD in dialectology at Swansea University. I’m proud of it.

Dave

Before presenting my research at a conference the chair of the session (and head of the organisation running the conference) introduced me but instead of introducing my position or the title of my paper thought it more relevant to tell everyone that “Dave is from Scotland, so he is going to try to speak very slowly and clearly for us all so that we can understand him, isn’t he?”.  I responded that I could deliver my paper in Scots if they would like to which they replied “yes you like to think you have your own language don’t you?”

I think a few of the audience were also quite shocked at this but the majority thought it was quite funny. I always find it surprising that this would happen at an applied linguistics/sociolinguistics conference! Stuff like this happens to me frequently at conferences and it consistently strikes me as odd that linguists (mostly old, white and English…) assume that I’m not aware of my own speech or think I’m incapable of speaking in a way in which people can understand me.

Anon

On a winter evening train in Sussex, around 2010 or so, I had a brief phone conversation with my brother. We are from Liverpool so I accommodated (as presumably did he) but normally you wouldn’t notice. Two young families were across the aisle, some seated some standing. Phone call over, the two dads started bantering about how much they hated thieving/scrounging/whining Scousers, and chanting the name of the team that had just knocked Liverpool out of Europe. When it came to my stop, they made a pretence of not letting me off the train but in the end stood aside smiling

Eszter

One time, a British woman asked me upon meeting me ‘Where is home?’ I assumed she meant my address, so I told her which area I lived in, to which she replied (in a manner close to baby talk) ‘No, no, home. Where does mummy live?’ I was shocked as, although she was several decades older than me (and may have seen me as a young person), I have not lived with ‘mummy’ for almost a decade. I told her that I’m from Hungary to which she replied ‘Your English is so much better than my Romanian cleaning lady’s!’ I then told her that I’m doing a PhD in English linguistics and avoided talking to her for the rest of the night.

Thom

I seem to be in a minority of English people, with my nonstandard Leicester accent,  who pronounce “tongue” “tong” rather than “tung”. It got mocked at university, and even my wife finds it so funny that I’ve actually altered the way I say it, or avoid saying the word aloud. It’s a small thing, sure, but it does make me very self conscious.

Alice

I was picked on when I joined my secondary school for speaking ‘posh’. I guess I had quite an RP accent from my parents who had both had elocution lessons when they were younger. I would definitely not have considered myself ‘posh’ though. No one wanted to be posh at my school. I had to very quickly start speaking North Londonese to avoid bullying. 

Karen

I’m Irish and have experienced a lot of negative feedback and discrimination in the UK due to my accent, ranging from someone refusing to be seated next to me on a plane to students telling me they can’t take me seriously because I ‘sound like Father Ted’!

Ella

I’m American by birth, English by accent and face an awful lot of criticism for it. I was once detained in a horrible little room at JFK airport because my accent and passport didn’t ‘match’ and I was questioned about false documentation before being brought to tears because I thought I was going to be arrested. That was the most unusual experience. Other than that, I often get odd looks when I speak about my history and my parents very much do not like that we sound unrelated.