Stories

Phil

During my schooldays I was brought up by parents that spoke ‘properly’ in Standard English which meant my received pronunciation was considered a bit posh at school which when linked to my good academic ability until aged 13 and my shyness caused me social issues with my peers. Although I wasn’t bullied much I wasn’t accepted either. At age 13 I got caught up on not understanding a couple of issues in Chemistry and Physics. Too proud to ask I rejected education and rebelled. My sense of humour came through as well. Suddenly I was more acceptable.

Leaving school I went into a BT apprenticeship where others were about the same level as me and I felt comfortable (plus the lecturer explained the issues I had got stuck with in school that had stuck with me all that time). I exaggerated my voice and behaviour to be working class.

Some time later I had grown up and wanted to pursue a career in management. I was immediately disadvantaged by the accent and casual behaviour I had acquired. I had to work twice as hard.

After a short while I went into sales and found that my accent and lack of eloquence held me back from forming senior relationships within both BT and the Customers to whom I was assigned. I didn’t get very far.

On early retirement I took up writing and found that, although my writing was imaginative and good, my accent for reading held me back from being taken seriously.

Natalia

I started learning Spanish 10 years ago and moved to Spain 6 years ago. In general, native people I meet in Spain make comments like ‘I’m surprised that you speak Spanish so well’. I think it is obvious that anyone who has been learning a language for 10 years should speak it fluently. Anyway, this attitude does not bother me too much. What really bothers me is when my stage directors say ‘you will never have a lot of work because of your accent’ or my Argentinian colleagues say ‘the audience won’t ever understand you well because your accent doesn’t even exist’ (meaning that my mother tongue isn’t Spanish).

‘Brummie’ in a Londoner household

I’m from Redditch, a town in the West Midlands, about 30 minutes below Birmingham. No, I don’t have the ‘buuuuurminhummm’ accent, I have a Redditch accent…where I’m from. A lot of people who aren’t from west midlands would mistake my accent as a ‘Brummie accent, which isn’t a problem, but it’s not a Brummie accent.

I moved to Nottingham to study, and many southerners had also moved here. From day one my friendship group were southerners, some from Cambridge, some from south London and so on. I also shared a household with these individuals.

We often had arguments on how I pronounced my words wrong… for example, I say Bath like Baff and to them it was wrong, but to me it was correct. I’d often get told ‘But our way is the queen’s language’ and all that crap. I sometimes found these conversations funny, other times I found it pointless. Why are you trying to tell me how to pronounce things? When either way I’m still saying the correct word? It’s the way I have been taught to pronounce it since I was a kid from my parents and in school etc. why would I change it? it’s not like they don’t know what words I was saying.

I felt like they also saw me as stupid, considering I was the most intelligent there and doing the hardest course (not to brag), but stand me next to someone with a ‘posh’ Londoner accent, and I bet I’ll be seen as the stupid one.

I don’t get it, and quite frankly it’s annoying. Does it really matter about accents and the way we pronounce words? I’m proud of where I come from and I’m not going to change the way I speak because that’s how the queen bloody says it.

So yeah I do think accentism is a thing. Once I was even told by a friend to pronounce things ‘correctly’ before I have a job interview. Am I any less worthy of opportunities just because I pronounce words differently?

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.