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’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’m a PhD candidate and associate lecturer, originally from Wolverhampton.
I never really developed a thick Black Country accent. Whenever I speak to people at conferences and I tell them where I’m from, there’s always a somewhat congratulatory “oh, you can’t tell!” reaction.
I seem to be in a minority of English people, with my nonstandard Leicester accent, who pronounce “tongue” “tong” rather than “tung”. It got mocked at university, and even my wife finds it so funny that I’ve actually altered the way I say it, or avoid saying the word aloud. It’s a small thing, sure, but it does make me very self conscious.