I am an undergraduate at the University of Oxford. I have a strong accent, as I come from Bradford. Since arriving at university, where the vast majority of people’s voices ring with the supposedly dulcet tones of RP, I have constantly experienced problems due to my accent. I have been asked to ‘speak properly’ by tutors when speaking in tutorials. I have been mocked by other students due to my pronunciation of certain words. I have been told that I will never get a job if I do not allow my accent to ‘mellow’- i.e. conform. In a progress meeting with tutors, I was told that my presenting skills needed work. I am a confident and skilled presenter: they just couldn’t understand or wouldn’t try to understand my accent.
So I am northern Italian, which is already a bit of a strange accent for Italy (long vowels, many consonants fall, etc.), then I moved to England and lived first in Yorkshire where my best friend is from, and then in Oxford, but with two Irishmen and a Scot in the house, and then I met my future husband who is a Welshman raised in Norfolk. The result? After four years in England, I developed what has been recently defined by a friend of mine a ‘Eurotrash’ accent, with bits of Irish, Northern, Scot pronunciation scattered here and there across my fake-RP.
That said, I love English Northern pronunciation and every day that passes I am more and more tempted to ditch the stupid RP and just go for my northern mash!
I went to Oxford university in the 90s from a state comp in the home counties. I had never really met anyone who had a different accent from my own so (like many people, I now know), assumed I had ‘no accent’. As soon as I arrived there, I was ridiculed for my accent and told I was an ‘Essex girl’ by my mainly middle class privately and grammar-educated peers (actually I spoke something like Estuary English, I guess). I remember sitting next to a professor one evening who expressed amazement to meet someone with a regional southern accent at dinner. I was told that it was sad that I sounded so awful in English while my French accent was beautiful (I was studying languages). This deeply affected me and I gradually began cleansing my speech and assimilating. It makes me sad that I felt that I had to do that. I now sound just like those people who ridiculed me. I had a couple of friends (also from comps), who did not lose their regional accents and continued to be victimised. Interestingly, it seemed to be better for people with Welsh or Scottish accents which were somehow classless.
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.