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.
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!
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!
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.
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’.
I grew up in the South East, in and around Royal Tunbridge Wells. I went to university up north and uni friends, housemates and course-mates (vast majority Northerners) would often remark on the way I pronounced things, particularly the classics like ‘grass’ and ‘bath’. One person would repeat the word/phrase in an over-done RP accent and the rest of the group (including me, most of the time) would get a bit of a giggle out of it. People would often assume I had loads of money and my family were landed gentry or Viscounts or something.
I went to the ‘second’ university in the town (an ex-polytechnic) and, interestingly, people I met who didn’t know that, would assume that I went to the ‘primary’ university in the town, renowned for being (better) and with higher entry requirements.
Definitely found myself inadvertently adopting a bit of a Northern twang by the time I got to third year!
My current headteacher told the rest of SLT that she’d rather I didn’t read out in assemblies due to my ‘flat Northern voice’. I insisted. Ever since, I’ve been told by teachers I do the best assemblies.