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.
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.
I have a Birmingham accent and I work at a university outside of Birmingham. Someone in my office said to me that her boyfriend often works in Birmingham and when he comes home he has a horrible twang to his accent and she has to tell him to “wash his mouth out with soap”. She thought telling me this was hilarious. I didn’t even bother saying because where the heck could I start. People are so horrible about the Birmingham accent.
Mine started a long time ago. When I started at Oxford in the late 80s someone told me, ‘You can’t possibly be studying English at Oxford with an accent like that!’ This came hot on the heels of a teacher at a study week telling me ‘The northern accent is generally associated with being thick.’ I now teach on the outskirts of Birmingham and it’s lovely listening to some of my A level language students who are really proud of their accent despite the prejudice they encounter. Same kind of things I was getting back then.