Stories

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!

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!

Stephen

I was the only student with a Birmingham accent when studying English at the University of Birmingham (yes, Birmingham) way back in the 90s and didn’t I know it! I ended up turning the tables, though, and wrote my dissertation, Masters and PhD on attitudes towards Birmingham English. The last chapter of my PhD thesis (Birmingham English: A Sociolinguistic Study) discusses the effects of language discrimination and argues that this form of prejudice is no less harmful than any other. At the time, Wales (2000) was about the only reference to ‘accentism’ that I could find, so it is heartening to see that the term is now in more widespread use but disheartening to see that so many young people are still suffering from it (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/oct/24/its-had-a-lasting-impact-students-on-being-bullied-over-their-accents).

I still get the odd double take and supercilious comment even today when people hear me speak and see my title. Obviously, for some, Dr + Brummie still do not add up!

Wales, K. 2000. ‘North and South: A Linguistic Divide?’ in English Today 16(01): 4-15.

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.

Millie

I grew up in the north so i have a northern accent but my dad and my auntie were brought up to speak ‘proper English’. My auntie would constantly be telling me how to say certain words like ‘baf’ instead of ‘bath’ or ‘half parst’ instead of ‘half past’. She would say the way i spoke sounded ‘common’ and ‘unprofessional’ which really annoyed me cause i couldn’t help it. Luckily people around me had the same accent as me so it didn’t bother me too much.

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.

Yampy Wench

I’m from the Black Country but have lived almost 40 years in Hampshire, I spent some time in school in Hants as well as much of my adult life. While I no longer speak with a strong accent it has marked me out as someone to laugh at or simply actively hate. Sitting miffed in interviews with people laughing so hard whenever I spoke they couldn’t catch breath. I’ve been asked if I know who my father is and received a long letter suggesting I never again aspire to anything due to my background, I’ve been refused service in shops, banks and cafes and graded downwards despite coming equal to or better than other peers. It still can be a daily issue to have someone somewhere remind me I’m a Midlander… I sometimes thank them for letting me know as it’s easy to forget without the constant reminders… always with a twinkle. The idea, it seems from some, is to bring me down a few pegs, put me back in that box from which I wriggled.

None of my schools nor FEs expected anything of me, nor offered support, the educators were in some respects actively hostile. Similarly I’ve had employers apologise to visitors in advance for anything I may do and say on the basis that I come from the Midlands… and I was never ever allowed to represent any organisation I have been involved in… just in case it’s infectious maybe?

Many have suggested elocution lessons and moving back to the Midlands despite having spent most of my life in the South East. I recall one director filming where I worked saying I was a long way from home, I didn’t catch on immediately since this is my home so I said no I just live across the water… he looked confused, I caught on and laughed and explained (I’ve thought about having leaflets printed it happens so often)

What really gets to some people is that I’m not ashamed of being a Midlander in any way shape for form, yes it’s a different culture to here. I now sound very posh (according to the Midlanders) when I travel back there to visit relatives so I’m neither fish nor fowl really. I like both areas and people, not everyone means it badly and those that do tend to regret it when they find their friends laughing at them when I tease them back.

All in all, like many of my fellow Midlanders, I’m a well read, auto didact with a dry sense of humour and a friendly manner. I must be a serious challenge to prejudices if I have them working so hard to try and make me feel bad about myself… but I am the only one with that power over me, perhaps one day more people will understand that and accents will become an interesting difference rather than an object of hate and ridicule.