Stories

Natsumi

‘I did not expect THAT!’ – Reaction over an American accent coming from an Asian girl.

‘How is your English so good?’ – Presumption that my native language can’t be English.

‘No, you ARE American’ – This guy started a fight over this, convinced he knew me better.

Louise

It wasn’t until I got my Masters in Linguistics that I felt I could speak in my accent in professional settings. That qualification is the only ammunition I have when I’m faced with classist attitudes.

Sta

Because I sound so American, it always strikes me when people start correcting my English only after they find out I am not a native speaker and actually from South Asia. Seems I speak it ‘like a native’ but only till they figure out my passport. Then it’s a giveaway.

Anon

I’m from Stoke on Trent. In one of my first seminars at university, I answered a question for the lecturer and a girl sat behind me said ‘that girl’s accent makes me feel sick’ (she didn’t even try to whisper). I’ve received a lot of prejudice at University mainly for my accent and dialect. Even certain lecturers have mocked the way I pronounce words, such as ‘book’ with a rather fronted GOOSE vowel, as opposed to the more standard STRUT/FOOT vowel for this word.

Mike

When I moved to London, age 16, in the 70s, my Cardiff accent was constantly ridiculed to the point where I resolved to ‘clean up’ my speech. I no longer have my accent. Regret it massively.

Anastasia

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’….

Jack

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!

Enrique

My best friend is from Menorca. Her native language is Catalan. We both went to uni in Barcelona. The Catalan variety of Menorca is quite different from Barcelona’s, which is considered “the standard”. She had to give a presentation for a pragmatics course. After she gave the presentation, one of the FOUNDERS of the linguistics department (first linguistics department in Spain) told her: “you probably did very good, but I didn’t understand much”. I (and the rest of the students) understood her perfectly fine.

Edith

I was once marked down by a lecturer in Austria for speaking with a Yorkshire accent instead of RP in an EFL class. English is not my native language. Now I have a Welsh accent from when I did my PhD in dialectology at Swansea University. I’m proud of it.

Dave

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.