Having a scouse (or any regional) accent is seen as being linked to having a working-class background. That’s not the case for me. I speak with a scouse accent and was lucky enough to have a privileged upbringing in an affluent area of Liverpool. I have very middle-class background. But I have still experienced classist comments based on my accent. I’m so proud of being from Liverpool (even if I’m not a ‘proper’ scouser, being from a village further out!). The assumptions and snobbery around accents make me rage.
It wasn’t until I left home to go to uni in the mid-00s that I started to experience people treating me differently because of my accent. This was a uni up north, but RP-speaking students from down south didn’t seem to mind being on ‘our’ turf. My most memorable story of accentism is from when I dated someone from the south east. I went to visit him during the summer holidays and had to meet his group of friends, who were insufferable. One of them didn’t even introduce himself before asking ‘What’s it like living in Liverpool then? I can’t even imagine being in a council house, it must be disgusting?’. I think my jaw hit the floor. Speechless… The guy I was seeing then told his friends that I was ‘actually posher’ than them, which left me in a weird state, wanting to prove to them that accent doesn’t = money/class and what kind of idiot judges people on that anyway? But also wanting play down being ‘posh’ because I didn’t want his group of friends to think I was one of them, a snob who seemed to have a problem with anyone who was different from them. But if I went on a rant about classism then was I a fraud because I wasn’t really working class, just spoke like it in their eyes? I think I made some lame comment about him needing to leave home and get into the real world. I look back now and kick myself for not starting a full-on fight with the whole group of them. One of them is now a Tory MP, just to top it off!
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 have noticed in the last 20 years (I am nearly 53) regional accents become a lot more acceptable. I got ridiculed for my (not that strong but distinctive) Scottish accent in London in the eighties and also at uni in Edinburgh. I hadn’t met the very rich before that and it was a shock. I was into drama but after feeling isolated among the RP speakers I didn’t return to a group and stopped acting altogether. They seemed to think that anyone with any kind of regional accent was extremely poor and lower working class. There was a clear class divide at the university.
As a student at school I was mocked by the more strong accented kids (in Fife) and told I had been sent to elocution lessons by my mum which was incorrect. There seemed to be a thing about talking as broad as possible to avoid being called a snob (inverted snobbery). I have been told several times I sound like Kirsty Wark and am happy with this. I now live in West Yorkshire and have adopted some of that dialect but never lost my Scottish accent.
I was a child growing up in a rough part of Croydon and attending a normal local primary school. Because my parents were immigrants, they encouraged my sister and me to ‘speak properly’, so I wasn’t allowed to speak like the other kids even if I’d wanted to. As a result, I was bullied for the way I spoke. However, now, I fully acknowledge that my RP accent is more likely to get me places in life than if I spoke with a Cockney accent, and this is unjust. I even take issue with the phrase ‘well-spoken’, which basically means middle- to upper-class RP and nothing else, and it’s an erasive and discriminatory term that reinforces negative stereotypes of people with all different types of accents, as if they’re automatically idiots because they don’t speak with a BBC newsreader accent.
It wasn’t until I got my Masters in Linguistics that I felt I could speak in my accent in professional settings. That qualification is the only ammunition I have when I’m faced with classist attitudes.