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”.
I’m a PhD candidate and associate lecturer, originally from Wolverhampton.
I never really developed a thick Black Country accent. Whenever I speak to people at conferences and I tell them where I’m from, there’s always a somewhat congratulatory “oh, you can’t tell!” reaction.
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.
I’m from Long Island NY, from a family with a pretty light accent to begin with, or so I thought. When I went away to college (the first one in my immediate family) to upstate NY the first thing that I knew had to go was my accent. Every time I said anything with my natural lilt my roommates were laughing and demanding I repeat certain words for their entertainment because it was just so funny. I was majoring in Linguistics and when we learned phonetics in the introduction class I used that understanding to change how I spoke. The making fun stopped and no one could tell where I was from anymore; I had to lose a piece of my identity to be accepted by my peers here and more broadly in academia as I’m now working on my PhD.
I was presenting my research at a conference in Cambridge University a few years back. It was a great success and at the end of the questions section my supervisor – A British bully with major stammering issues- told me to ‘stop talking because my accent annoyed him’….
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.