As a child, I lived in Scotland for quite some time before moving to the US at age 7 or 8. When I started school there, I was often ashamed to speak because my Scottish accent garnered so much attention. I don’t remember if any staff had a reaction, but my classmates were equal parts fascinated and repulsed by my accent: they’d scrunch up their faces because I was apparently impossible to understand, or ask me to say particular words or phrases on cue. Of course, they were only children and really didn’t know any better, but it just highlights the importance of exposing people, from a young age, to other ways of being. Disappointingly, I ended up making a conscious effort to change my accent to an ‘American’ one, in order to fit in.
I am so pleased to come across this website after many years of lonely world of suffering prejudice from language/accent & racism. I am not a monolingual but experienced the whole load of such prejudice. I began observing & experiencing such prejudice the moment I arrived in the UK more than twenty years ago. Purely because of this prejudice, I went to University and studied Linguistics, full time, and completed BA (Hons). From that study alone, I gained knowledge about what is called English (as well as of course the science of Linguistics) and have more knowledge about English than many native English speakers/monolingual. Twenty plus years on, with a degree in Linguistics, I continue to experience prejudice. The hard part is the absence and /or of interested and intelligent group/persons to discuss such problems and psycho-social behaviours.
I grow up in Southampton. Not the nice side mind you. The lower class part where people try to act all tough. My accent, which I picked up from god knows where, has made me who I am. I am made fun of for sounding extremely posh as I have a passion for grammar and accent. I would be ridiculed and told that I am a stereotypical British person and it makes it hard to feel like an individual. They shove me in a category and leave me there to waste away.
I’ve had people sort of judge how I pronounce or say certain words because I’m from a foreign country and the English we use is a little different to British English. Although I wouldn’t call it discrimination, I do feel very uncomfortable whenever someone asks where I’m from because they don’t recognize my accent.
Growing up, moving back and forth between Thanet and Norfolk was difficult while learning to talk because I would pick up different fractions of each accent. It became difficult at school because other children would pick on me for ‘sounding funny’ and teachers would tell me to talk ‘properly’. When asked to label my accent I would find it difficult because it was a mix of both. Still now, even though they are playing with me, my friends like to make fun of my accent as I elongate my vowels more than they do, and the ‘ing’ ending words would sound more like ‘in’ words. But I learn to live with it and laugh along.
The most common thing I receive is when I feel I’m not welcomed in the community because of my accent. I’ve moved around a lot in England, therefore have collected various ways of speaking and different parts of accents and combined it into one. The most common things said to me are phrases like “you’re not from round here are you?” and the one I find most annoying purely because I’ve been asked so many times and it gets exhausting is “where are you from?” I understand people are most likely curious but its usually the first thing people ask me when they hear me speak. I experienced this the most when I lived in Nottinghamshire, I was often laughed at for my pronunciation of words or because I didn’t use the words they did for bread roll or ears, and made fun of. My first day at primary school in Nottinghamshire my PE lesson consisted of the teacher asking where I was from, where I was born, why I moved there and it was the most memorable thing for me because I felt like i was different and not welcome there. Another common thing I have received was when I went to America and was asked to repeat certain words because it sounded “stupid” or “weird” and “funny”.
I come from the beautiful countryside of Herefordshire in the West Midlands. It’s the county of Hereford bulls, cider, Tyrell’s, Ellie Goulding and apparently an un-placeable accent. One feature of the accent I noticed rhoticity with some Herefordians – typically the ones living in the very rural areas and coming from the farming generation.
I never felt like I had the ‘Herefordshire accent’ until I moved to university in Birmingham, where my flat mates (from both the north and the south) were unable to place my accent. To some, they found my accent to be ‘posh’ but to others they commented that I sounded like a ‘farmer’. This continued as I moved into teaching after my undergraduate, and children in schools that are in Herefordshire towns also were bemused by my Hereford accent, with comments that it was ‘posh’ or that they believed I was from ‘Cardiff’.
Whilst I’ve never felt anyone was rude towards me because of my accent (although there is much stigma around being a ‘farmer’ or having a ‘farmer accent’ in my area of Hereford) I’ve always found it bemusing that it seems to be an unknown place with an unknown accent, despite it having its own qualities.
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.
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?