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 grew up in the north so i have a northern accent but my dad and my auntie were brought up to speak ‘proper English’. My auntie would constantly be telling me how to say certain words like ‘baf’ instead of ‘bath’ or ‘half parst’ instead of ‘half past’. She would say the way i spoke sounded ‘common’ and ‘unprofessional’ which really annoyed me cause i couldn’t help it. Luckily people around me had the same accent as me so it didn’t bother me too much.
My experience isn’t necessarily about my accent specifically, however it is about the way I speak.
I have a lisp and have done for my entire life as far as I’m aware. It’s not something I like about myself, but those I know and associate with never seem to have any trouble with it and have never mentioned it. However, there have been two incidents where it has, apparently, been a problem.
The first I want to talk about is one I didn’t know about until a few months ago when my mum was asked about my lisp. When I first started school, bearing in mind I was 4 years old, my mum was contacted regarding the possibility of speech therapy for me because, according to the person who contacted her, no-one could understand what I was saying. My mum was confused about this, and rightly so considering my best friend of two years at the time was Indian and struggled with English had no issues with the way I spoke, so she went to my class teacher. She was equally confused and told my mum that everything was fine with the way I spoke. I have no idea who it was that told my mum all that, but clearly they were only going on their own experience with me and hadn’t spoken to anyone else about it!
In comparison, this second story is incredibly mild. When I started secondary school, I was the only person from my primary school in that year group. I had an okay working relationship with the boys who sat around me in my science class and I was always happy to help either of them if they needed it. One lesson we were doing work about hypothetical samples of something from different regions. One of those regions was Cheshire, which one of the guys couldn’t work out. I tried to help him out, of course, but my lisp means that I pronounce ‘ch’ as an odd variation of ‘j’, so he had no idea what I was trying to say. I think I ended up confusing him even more by giving up and telling him it was “the name of the cat from Alice In Wonderland”! Luckily, the other guy realised how much trouble this was causing and told him. But I think that was the incident that made me realise how prominent my lisp was and ended with me being incredibly conscious of it even until this day.
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.
Hablando de tener acento andaluz y de cómo, al hablar mucho por teléfono en el trabajo, trataba de neutralizar un poco el acento para que me entendieran mejor:
«Pero entonces, si sabes hablar bien, ¿por qué hablas así?»
No se me olvidará en la vida.
My husband is from the south east and I am from a northern coastal town. He HATES my accent. At first, I think he thought it was novel and interesting, but now he corrects at least one word from every sentence I utter. My pronunciation of grass/bath is often the target, but recently the way I (have always) not emphasised a ‘t’ at the end of a word absolutely disgusts him. It’s a big issue.
I haven’t experienced this sort of accent annoyance before – I attended a ‘middle class’ university (according to the dean in our welcome speech) and other students found me difficult to understand, or would laugh at everything I said, assuming northerners were all comedians… but no one was ever insulting or derogatory about it to my face. In fact, some of my tutors would make an effort to encourage me to speak and one in particular, who also had a northern accent, would compliment me on the ‘correct’ pronunciation of words!
The Greek I learnt at my mother’s knee was greatly modified, at the age of 7, when I attended primary school. It was accepted that one spoke “proper” Greek as opposed to Cypriot Greek – heavily accented and with its own words (sometimes of Homeric origin , like λαλώ) scattered here and there.
Emigrating 18 months later to London meant attending Greek school on Saturday mornings. The great and the good at the church school would hide their Cypriot origins by trying to talk “posh” with varying rates of success.
When my daughter was born, my mother kept berating me about the Cypriot I used. It needed to be cleaned up into the accepted higher level radio Greek.
Suffice it to say that I lost interest in imparting the language to my daughter, who, having an English father. Was happy to lapse into English only.
Subsequently, I’ve heard from Greeks in Cyprus how they don’t rate their own Cypriot accent/ dialects and chose to heap scorn in those who still use it.
What their reasons for this might be, I’ll leave to conjecture. But, for a small island under occupation by a foreign country , imposing its own culture and language and further culturally compromised by the recent entry of Overwhelming numbers of Europeans and Russians… I would have thought that self-effacement of a great part of Cypriot cultural roots would be considered by any thinking person as cultural suicide.
My mother had a very soft Cypriot accent as has my father. I have hardly experienced any discrimination because of the way I speak Greek, in fact I have been encouraged and complimented whenever I am in Cyprus or Greece. There was however one occasion when, in Greece I asked a question, in Greek, to a receptionist who told me that unless I could speak Greek ‘properly’ I should not speak it at all and that we should speak in English. I complied and was able, very happily, to subsequently correct the many mistakes she made in English!!! I used to, admittedly, find the ‘heavier’ Cypriot dialect to be uncouth but now I almost think it rebellious and defiant and I rather like it!
Spent dinner defending my little brother’s “incorrect” use of th-fronting. My parents would make excellent descriptivist linguists, it’s not their fault though, they “just want him to speak properly”.