Liverpool Lady

Having a scouse (or any regional) accent is seen as being linked to having a working-class background. That’s not the case for me. I speak with a scouse accent and was lucky enough to have a privileged upbringing in an affluent area of Liverpool. I have very middle-class background. But I have still experienced classist comments based on my accent. I’m so proud of being from Liverpool (even if I’m not a ‘proper’ scouser, being from a village further out!). The assumptions and snobbery around accents make me rage.

It wasn’t until I left home to go to uni in the mid-00s that I started to experience people treating me differently because of my accent. This was a uni up north, but RP-speaking students from down south didn’t seem to mind being on ‘our’ turf. My most memorable story of accentism is from when I dated someone from the south east. I went to visit him during the summer holidays and had to meet his group of friends, who were insufferable. One of them didn’t even introduce himself before asking ‘What’s it like living in Liverpool then? I can’t even imagine being in a council house, it must be disgusting?’. I think my jaw hit the floor. Speechless… The guy I was seeing then told his friends that I was ‘actually posher’ than them, which left me in a weird state, wanting to prove to them that accent doesn’t = money/class and what kind of idiot judges people on that anyway? But also wanting play down being ‘posh’ because I didn’t want his group of friends to think I was one of them, a snob who seemed to have a problem with anyone who was different from them. But if I went on a rant about classism then was I a fraud because I wasn’t really working class, just spoke like it in their eyes? I think I made some lame comment about him needing to leave home and get into the real world. I look back now and kick myself for not starting a full-on fight with the whole group of them. One of them is now a Tory MP, just to top it off!

Jaime

Being a Geordie has always been important to me because it gives me a place to be from. I went to uni in the South and never moved home after that, and for the past 10 years I’ve been living abroad. About 7 years ago, I noticed that my accent was becoming softer; my strong “o” became a mopey “eu”, my decisive “-n” became a whiny “-ing”. Nobody actually seemed to care or notice, but in the process of becoming more like them I was feeling less like me.

I began to look down on people who had softened their accents. I saw it as a weakness in character and a mark of vulnerability. I was indignant that I should need to give up my identity to be understood, and I judged myself for bending unconsciously.

My solution was to become bi-dialectal. From one day to the next I decided only to speak Geordie with other Geordies, and to speak a generic Estuary English with everyone else. This way I’m always in control. I made myself conscious of every difference between Geordie and standard English, and drawing this clear line quickly reversed all of the damage done to my original accent. When I speak Geordie now, it’s with a full sense of pride in that core identity. It means that wherever I am, I’m still from somewhere.

Because of all of this I live with two areas of linguistic discrimination. I still can’t help judging people with weakened regional accents as if they’re trying to snub their roots. Ironically enough, though, there are also the people who find out I’m a Geordie but hear my posh accent and assume that THAT’S an attempt to snub my roots, rather than a way of protecting them.

Annie

I used to get bullied severely all the time, for years I was treated differently from the rest of my school. Until I was moved into a different school in year 8 but, I felt safer in the new school. One day, word got out about the rumours from my last school and spread. Yet even though they bullied me badly, they twisted it to my Welsh Accent. The thing is everyone sounds English, they all didn’t like the way I spoke. My Welsh Accent isn’t a choice the way I speak, I know I am different to everyone from the rest of Wales. I left school due to bullying, now I want to fight for justice for the Welsh language. It’s a big asset but, those people who went to my school will use it again. I see them working and I think to myself, I can show everyone my Welsh Accent and be proud that I am me. I may not have GCSEs but, who needs them when you know what your story is going to be about anyway. I still find it a struggle each day but, I am writing a book that is based on our Celtic lives and I wanted to show the world that my Welsh Accent is pure and free. Bullying or Accentism will never hurt me in the world I am going in to! Everyone has they own story, let them say it in their own language and accents. Everyone has a voice!

Kirsty

I grew up in social housing in Yorkshire. I loved learning and I also loved watching The Bill – a series set in a police station focused on solving crime. Going to university to study law therefore seemed like an obvious choice and I was excited to start my course at a Russell Group University.

I turned up fresh faced and enthusiastic – looking forward to my future. I was also feeling nervous and unsure whether University was a place for people like me, especially listening to my peers. It was the first time I really realised that I spoke differently – and that differently was seen by people as a bad thing.

In my first week, I met my tutor in a small group of 6-8 people. My tutor was employed by the University to support us through the course. We all introduced ourselves. My tutor told the group that if we wanted to be successful in law we must learn to speak with a “Westminster accent”. My heart sunk and I could feel my cheeks burning as I realised this must be directed at me and my regional accent… My first week and I had already been told I would not succeed.

This confirmed my suspicion University wasn’t for me and for the first term I had to resist the urge to  drop out of the course. It also really affected my confidence in my studies and socialising with my peers. I then went through a period where I consciously tried to talk “posher”.

One day, something snapped and I asked myself why I was trying so hard to be accepted by people who didn’t respect me. I stopped trying to change who I am and embraced my Yorkshire heritage – it is a huge part of my identity.

The accentism hasn’t stopped and I have so many examples, particularly as I moved to London for work after university, but I now understand there is nothing wrong with me and how I speak. It is society who has a problem and it is something which we need to raise awareness of. The UK’s diversity of regional accents is something to be proud of and celebrate!

Art

This was a long time ago, but I’m now realising the prejudice at the heart of my experience. From the outset, it’s worth saying, I am originally from Newcastle and at the time had a much stronger Geordie accent than I do now.

When I was training to become an English teacher in Cumbria, I was delivering a lesson on Thomas Hardy’s poetry to an A Level Literature class. I was being observed by my subject mentor. During the lesson I had read out one of Hardy’s poems from the set text. In the follow up discussion the teacher questioned my reading the poem and said with a polite (not polite) laugh, “Geordies don’t do poetry do they?” She had also written these words on my lesson observation form. To be clear, she was specifically referring to the sound of Hardy’s words coming out of my mouth rather than my analysis of the poem.

Only one year later, during my first Year 9 parents evening, two parents on separate occasions made similar jibes about the irony of “Geordies teaching English”. Perhaps this is why my accent is not as strong as it used to be, something my family enjoy pointing out whenever I go home.

Alam

In Pakistan, our education system is British. here in America, the English people speak is really different from what I was taught. English being my second language, its kind of hard to adjust. What I want to highlight though, is that if I ask for something like directions to the toilet, people would respond ‘are you talking about the bathroom?’ What else would I be talking about?

At the same time, this goes for words I can’t pronounce correctly as well. if a person tells me ‘I go school’ instead of ‘I’m going to school’ I understand what they mean, but I’ve noticed a lot of people will act like they don’t get what the person meant, and some people even make fun about their improper sentence structuring.

These type of small things don’t cause much harm, but they really do annoy/ anger us on a subliminal level.

Vic

When I was growing up I was told by family that I sounded stupid because of my Geordie accent. Because I said aye instead of yes I somehow was just absolutely stupid. So even though I lived in Newcastle I tried to avoid letting my accent show no matter what. Growing up watching TV, Geordies with strong accents were always stupid on it even on children’s shows.  I want to go to a local uni because I’m scared of ridicule for my accent.

Eve

I am from Dudley in the Black Country and moved to Derbyshire when I was 8. Instantly I received comments about how I spoke and people couldn’t understand me. As a result my accent changed over time to be more ‘posh’ sounding so I could clearly get my point across. But at 17, comments are still made on how I pronounce certain sounds and I’m told I don’t say certain things correctly.

My mom and sister still have the accent and people instantly comment on how they don’t sound like me, often with a negative tone. I am unsure if it is intentional or not.

Also, when I’ve met people through friends, I have received comments such as ‘Well it’s a good thing you didn’t come with that dreadful accent’ among other hurtful comments.

At school I study English Language and it’s awful to look at the stereotypes associated with my accent.

I had a job in a cafe where there was another person from the Black Country and our boss made comments hinting that she didn’t approve of how we spoke.

I think it appalling that people think this is acceptable behaviour and that you can judge the a person’s capabilities solely on how they speak.

 

Nivie

I came to the UK when I was quite young, I learnt English through my surroundings but also by watching a lot of Youtube videos, which ultimately made my accent more American than British.  I get a lot of comments where people are surprised that someone who’s South Asian can have an accent that’s mixed, but there’s also a lot of ruder comments, making fun of me for the way I pronounce certain things or just my accent and dialect in general.  It did make me grow to hate my accent but I think I appreciate it way more now!

Manley

My experiences have been rather different to the majority here, indeed I was not initially sure whether my experiences would fit, because they seem to be the polar opposite of what the project has predominantly showcased, but I felt that they highlight the issue, rather than detracting from it.

I had an unusually privileged upbringing, growing up with family with the Indian Army accent and  in the top end of the public school system, then attending Sandhurst.  I am resultantly eloquent and, whilst my childhood accent, which was very much Upper Received Pronunciation, has very much dulled down over the last 15 years or so, I still certainly speak with Received Pronunciation or perhaps even a ‘plummy’ accent

I am, at the same time, a pretty scruffy, long haired, portly, middle aged man with a bald spot which I am working hard to deny.  Living on the coast I often return from dog walks in a truly disreputable shape and look every inch the vagabond about town. On occasion this has lead to conversations with the local constabulary and often this elicits a poor reception in shops.  I have, however, found that the very moment I begin speaking all that goes away. It is like a magic wand which makes problems go away a lot of the time, particularly with authority.

Although this has generally made my life markedly easier in almost all scenarios, the stories here are supposed to be actual anecdotes, so I will recount an occasion where a police constable stopped myself and a friend, genuinely believing that he had just apprehended two muggers who vaguely fitted our descriptions and who had been seen running into the alley I was passing through. My chum repeatedly told the policeman that we were innocent, and remonstrated, but to no avail.  When I spoke, simply telling the officer that I was not the mugger and we had other places to be immediately had us released, with a profuse apology.

I am not going to pretend that this is not privilege and and I am not going to lie and say that it is not incredibly useful at times, but honestly I think the way that authority treats me, the ease with which I can engage prospective clients and partners and all the opportunities afforded me by my voice are not an advantage, but that the bigotry surrounding accents leads to others being disadvantaged.

That is not to say that I do not have an advantage, but rather that everyone should be afforded the same respect, trust and welcome, regardless of their accent, and regardless of whether they are wearing a dinner suit or a tracksuit.