Stories

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.”

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.

Louise

I feel awful when talking to people at times. I am Scottish and love being so. But being from a town very close to the border between Scotland and England, I find my accent is dependent on my situation.

I grew up in a very small town in Scotland close to the border to England. I feel, because of the proximity, my hometown accent is VERY pronounced to make sure people are aware we are Scottish. When I moved to go to University and came back to visit my parents, my dad told me ‘for God’s sake Louise, speak Scottish’ where I thought I was. But I wasn’t speaking in my natural dialect. This is when I realised I adapt my accent to where I am, very easily and unintentionally.

Then I began thinking about when I meet Irish people. I live in the west of Scotland and there are a lot of people in Stranraer, also in the west of Scotland that have almost ‘Belfastian?’ And I take on an Irish accent when speaking to people from Ireland. I’m not being, or trying to be offensive it just changes.

My partner’s grandmother is from Barbados and I have taken in saying ‘it’s a-boat time’ instead of ‘about’ and it’s not out of taking the piss but because I love the pronunciation.

I love doing accents and can do them very well, but also can speak German fluently.

My partner has lived in Lancaster, Scotland and London however and I cannot imitate his accent at all! But when he is speaking very northern ‘lancastarian’ I find myself copying him haha!

Just wanted to hear other people’s stories of accents changing 😊

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!