Flavia

There are several stories (published in newspapers) of Brazilians living in Portugal and being denied jobs as phono-audiologist and teachers because of their accents. Both speak Portuguese as their mother tongues. Brazilian children in Portuguese schools are also asked to speak Portuguese and not Brazilian, or to speak correctly. It is the same as if an American could not teach in UK. Or American children in UK schools being told they don’t speak English.

The funny thing is, Portuguese people love bragging about how Portuguese is one of the most spoken languages in the world. Of course, with 240 million Brazilians (and only about 12 million Portuguese).

Southerner in East Midlands

I’ve lived in the East Midlands for 12 years, on and off. My son is an East Midlander. I’m from South East London and have a very broad saahf Laahndan accent (my written English does not reflect the accent I have when I speak).

Not for the first time at my current place of work, though it’s been a while as I now work somewhere with mostly decent people for two years, I have just been subjected to an idiot suddenly deciding she’s got the bottle to start taking the mickey out of my accent. Namely by responding to most things I say with the normal idiot “jellied eels” and “gawd blimey guvnor” while pretending to stretch imaginary braces doing the Lambeth Walk or something, I don’t know. But all to the general laughter and actual clapping of half of my office colleagues. She’s obviously been doing this for a while behind my back but now she’s decided she’s got the support of the rest of them, so it’s OK to do this to my face while they all piss themselves while my dignity goes down the pan. I’m 49 – at my age this nonsense is not something I want to deal with.

This is not a new phenomenon to me, but this particular occasion has been a humiliating and enraging one. In googling this sort of thing, when it’s mentioned in media at all, it seems that the media has some mental schism that seems to just assume it’s always about either non-native English speakers or some poor victimised person from the UK regions being abused by stuck up RP Londoners.

Nonsense. Since living in the East Midlands I have encountered more casual racism and small minded provincialism than any place I’ve ever lived or been (and I’ve moved around a bit). I’m not talking about some joshing or light little pokes about pronunciation, all of which is fine – I’m talking about more serious forms. If it were not for the fact that I have to stay for the sake of my son I would be long gone. To be a “cockney” (which I am not anyway) anywhere north of Hertfordshire is licence to be lampooned, with a significant number of people not giving a damn about it being “inappropriate”. All the while simultaneously maintaining an idiot victim complex about the influence of “southerners”, hilariously. It’s no surprise that my actual friends up here are of East European or Asian descent.

I don’t mean to suggest it’s purely an East Midlands thing. It’s simply something you are suddenly aware of when you move to a different part of the country when you may not have been before. It’s not something I’ve brought with me, it’s a learned outlook due to the behaviour of my illustrious countrymen. I am actually of the opinion that, North or South (or the bit in between), in reality there’s literally no difference between any of us really, besides a few words like “cobs” and “rolls” and accompanying accents. And yet there exists this insistence that there’s this massive cultural divide. It basically doesn’t exist except in the form of learned, handed-down prejudice. I could look out my window at the street I live in near Nottingham or at the high street nearby and it could be the same as any commuter belt town near the M25, with people doing exact same thing, eating the same foods (oh yes they are!), listening to the same music, reading the same books, holding the same small-minded drivel opinions.

I’ve spent the last two days stewing about this (does it show?), and I shouldn’t have to be bothering about this crap. I’m not the sort to go making complaints to management, but Monday, I’m going to HR and the MD. I’m pretty sure I’ll get traction, even if it’s just because we’re struggling in current climate enough as it is, and I hold an important enough position that they don’t want idiot infighting putting people off their game.

I’ll not stop until I make that lass sorry she stuck her head above the parapet.

I suggest you do the same. Don’t let them get away with it, websites like this shouldn’t have to exist.

Jess

I am from North Wales and my accent is reflective of this. Its not what people would identify as a ‘typical Welsh accent.’ Due to the location of where I grew up, North East Wales, my accent sounds similar to that of Chester. I have lived in London for the past five years. The university where I work is not very diverse in terms of regional accents and I am always surprised and happy when I hear one.

This week, I went out for dinner with my sister (who has the same accent as me) and my partner (who is from Chester however was privately educated and has a ‘posh’ accent). When leaving the restaurant, the gentleman sat on the table next to ours stopped my partner and said: ‘Those girls are from the North’ to which he replied: ‘We all are.’  The man said ‘You don’t sound like your from the North’ to my partner, before briefly discussing the area he was from, after which we left.

Although I did find this encounter funny at the time, on reflection there were several elements of the interaction which bothered me. Firstly, as I wouldn’t necessarily think of myself as having a ‘northern’ accent I was surprised that his person picked up on it so much he felt the need to comment on it. Secondly, I wondered what his person hoped to achieve by pointing out our accent. From my perspective, it only made me very conscious about how others noticed and perceived my accent. Possibly he was only interested in learning where we were ‘from.’ However my final thought, and prevailing sense of discomfort about the interaction, was how this person directed the questions to my partner and did not acknowledge my own or my sisters presence. Thus excluding us from a conversation about our own accents. As this was my first direct experience of ‘accentism’ I searched online for others who experienced may have experienced stigma related to ‘northern’ accents and came across this project. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story.

Maria

Growing up in Stoke, I had a very clear ‘Stokey’ accent. When I was at primary school, members of my extended family suggested to my Mum that I have elocution lessons ‘to help me get on in the world’. My Mum refused – she had a Stoke accent too and felt personally offended by their suggestion, but also because she knew that speaking differently would lead me to be outcast at school and in my community.

As it happened, we moved twenty miles away when I was ten years old and despite the short distance, the kids in my new town did *not* speak like they were from Stoke and eventually my accent was bullied out of me. Look, book, cook and mispronouncing ‘th’ soon became something that felt wrong.

By the time I attended university most people assumed I was from the South as I had adapted my accent so convincingly.

It’s interesting now, as I feel like an accent chameleon – I easily pick up words and pronunciations from others (my partner is from Hampshire and I now regularly drop the ‘h’ from the start of words). This regularly leads to humour amongst friends and family, though it makes me sad as I realise that my own accent identity is so weak that I automatically adapt to ‘fit in’.

Georgia

I’m from the North East of England (born and raised) and despite my family (who are also all from the North East) and peers having strong northern accents, I don’t; and instead I have an accent that most people sight as being American. This leads to a lot of jokes between me and my friends. I’ve also grown used to people asking me about my accent and where me and my family are from. However, because of my accent being strange it quite frequently made me the target of bullying in primary and secondary school which made me extremely self conscious about the way I talk.

 

Bobbie

It first dawned on me that my Midlands accent was particularly prominent when I was in my first year of university. It was approaching dinner (lunch) time, and I said: “Christ, I could eat a scabby ‘oss”. Suddenly, the conversation went dead. My Northern friends genuinely responded like I’d just started speaking in parseltongue. As the years progressed, my pronunciations became a source of entertainment for the people on my undergraduate course. Words such as ‘five’, ‘move’, ‘pikelet’ and ‘mom’ received a lot of complaints especially, with one student telling me to ‘learn the Queen’s English’. My accent also led people to question whether I was intelligent, or whether I was paying somebody to write my essays for me. If I’d received £1 every time somebody said to me “Om from Burrrrmingham”, I imagine I might be very rich by now. Of course, I’m not actually from Birmingham, I live 20 miles away – but nobody ever seemed to want to know that.

The man

I used to work as a phone salesman and because of my Northern Jutlandic accent I was a better salesman. Due to my accent being connected with being trustworthy and reliable.

 

Míša (3)

I’ve lived in three countries: the Czech Republic, the UK, and Denmark. I’m a native speaker of Czech and a non-native speaker of some of the languages relevant for the UK and the Danish contexts. I have experienced more negative comments on my attempts to speak Danish than I have on my attempts to speak English or Welsh, irrespective of how far I’ve been on my trajectory to acquire a higher proficiency in the language in question.  The Welsh context has been the most tolerant: most Welsh speakers I’ve encountered have been incredibly supportive of me using Welsh, no matter how many mistakes I produced.

In England, it happened to me once that a non-native speaker of English started correcting my pronunciation in a way I didn’t find appropriate. It was a student attending my class on general phonetics & phonology. “How can I know what dialect I speak?” – “Well, there are various ways to find out. You might start with the literature,” — here I got interrupted. “What?” “You can consult the literature, see what features are typical of the speech of the area where you grew up.” – “What should I consult?” – “The literature.” – “Say it again?” – “The literature?” – “You mean LI-TRI-ture!” Yes, he was focusing on the fact that I pronounced the word “literature” as “lit” – “ra” – “ture” rather than “li” – “tri” – “ture”, which affected how I pronounced the “r”.

I’ve experienced similar reactions more frequently in Denmark when speaking Danish, but on a more extreme level. On three occasions I can remember, Danes refused to continue communicating with me once they realised I’m not a native speaker of Danish. How did this happen? I simply asked them, in Danish: “Could you say that again?” or “Could you say that again a bit more slowly?” Reactions? Head shaking. No words in any language ensued. On one occasion, the speaker didn’t say anything at all, turned away from me and walked away. In another of the three cases, I decided to push the Danish speaker a little bit (everything I said was in Danish): “You can’t say it again?” More vigorous head shaking. “So you can’t say what you’ve just said again, a little bit more slowly?” More head shaking. “Well, have a good Christmas.” He didn’t reply. And I wish I could say I didn’t really care.

I’v also experienced one case of a Danish student correcting my pronunciation of his name, repeatedly for two years (so far). I consulted Danish phoneticians, one of whom had the same name as the student in question. It is indeed the case that I don’t pronounce the name as native speakers would, but it seems that my mispronunciation is not as distant from the native pronunciation as the student has been insisting it is – at least based on the opinions of a couple of native Danish speakers who also happen to be phoneticians focusing on Danish pronunciation in their research. I can understand that one wants one’s name being pronounced correctly, but it’s only happened to me with native Danish speakers that they would make a repeated point about my mispronunciation of a genuine attempt to pronounce their name correctly. I haven’t experienced this with native speakers of Chinese, Dutch, English, Farsi, French, German, Japanese, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Welsh, and possible others.

In Wales, I was once trying to have a friendly conversation with someone on the train. “So what did you think of X?” (We attended the same event, X, the week before we bumped into each other on the train.) The Welsh speaker started correcting my Welsh grammar. I rephrased what I’d just asked with the construction he insisted I should use. After I produced another sentence, he started commenting on my lexicon. This kept on repeating itself, until I gave up trying to have any conversation with him. After the incident, I asked a couple of native speakers of Welsh if the constructions I had originally used were incorrect and why (I had seen them in textbooks.). It turned out that they didn’t find them incorrect. In fact, they found some of the corrections rather bizarre. I couldn’t help wondering if that Welsh speaker would have corrected these constructions if he heard them from native speakers of Welsh.

And as we can see, all the cases I’ve described above have happened with men. I myself am not a man.

Míša (2)

I’m not a native speaker of English and lived in England in the year of Brexit voting (2016). I lived in Newcastle at the time, working as a linguist at Newcastle University. This sort of job requires a fairly high level of English proficiency. I was moving some furniture from one house to another, and a native English speaker offered to give me a hand. We started chatting, and he started complaining about “all those horrible immigrants” right after I answered his question of where I come from with “Czech Republic”.  The conversation got far from pleasant as we kept on pushing the furniture: his comments spanned the wonderfully broad range of xenophobic statements, a good dose of mansplaining, hand some ageist comments related to me personally. At some point, I simply stopped reacting to what he was saying because there was no point engaging with this human being. When we got the furniture to the destination, he left with the following words: “I know I speak way too fast for someone like you to be able to follow, and it’s too difficult for you to follow my dialect, but I have a good life.” Indeed, silence from a non-native speaker of English can only mean one thing – lack of comprehension. All the non-native speakers of any language out there, let’s keep our heads up!

Míša

I lived in the UK for about 6 years. I’d often visit Wales and had a lot of Welsh connections, although I didn’t grow up in the UK and am not a native speaker of English or Welsh. Once I was on the phone with a speaker from North England, who didn’t know me. “You sound Welsh, are you from Wales?” – “No, actually, I grew up in the Czech Republic.” – “Well, now that you say that, you don’t actually sound that Welsh after all.”