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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My experience isn’t necessarily about my accent specifically, however it is about the way I speak.
I have a lisp and have done for my entire life as far as I’m aware. It’s not something I like about myself, but those I know and associate with never seem to have any trouble with it and have never mentioned it. However, there have been two incidents where it has, apparently, been a problem.
The first I want to talk about is one I didn’t know about until a few months ago when my mum was asked about my lisp. When I first started school, bearing in mind I was 4 years old, my mum was contacted regarding the possibility of speech therapy for me because, according to the person who contacted her, no-one could understand what I was saying. My mum was confused about this, and rightly so considering my best friend of two years at the time was Indian and struggled with English had no issues with the way I spoke, so she went to my class teacher. She was equally confused and told my mum that everything was fine with the way I spoke. I have no idea who it was that told my mum all that, but clearly they were only going on their own experience with me and hadn’t spoken to anyone else about it!
In comparison, this second story is incredibly mild. When I started secondary school, I was the only person from my primary school in that year group. I had an okay working relationship with the boys who sat around me in my science class and I was always happy to help either of them if they needed it. One lesson we were doing work about hypothetical samples of something from different regions. One of those regions was Cheshire, which one of the guys couldn’t work out. I tried to help him out, of course, but my lisp means that I pronounce ‘ch’ as an odd variation of ‘j’, so he had no idea what I was trying to say. I think I ended up confusing him even more by giving up and telling him it was “the name of the cat from Alice In Wonderland”! Luckily, the other guy realised how much trouble this was causing and told him. But I think that was the incident that made me realise how prominent my lisp was and ended with me being incredibly conscious of it even until this day.
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!