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 am currently in a relationship with someone who is very well off, upper middle class has a lovely big house a holiday home in Italy, nice cars, went to expensive private schools the lot! I am from an ordinary background went to state school, both my parents were born on council estates in Leeds and were the first in their families to go to university. My parents are teachers which has put me in an awkward class dynamic where I have been able to mix with people from all social and class backgrounds.
My boyfriend is from an upper middle class family and although born in Yorkshire both of his parents insist him and his sister speak with Received Pronunciation, which is ridiculous if you ask me anyway. When I am at their house they constantly try and challenge his accent and pronunciation even though he is 25 years old. He has a very neutral accent but says certain words such as “bath” like a northerner rather than “barrrrrrthh” like a southerner. The mother in particular corrects him and his younger sister in front of me (who has a Yorkshire accent, not massively broad but it’s definitely there) frequently.
I feel judged a lot, because it makes me feel as if I am inferior and that I am of a lower standard. There have been occasions when I have said something to his younger sister in my accent and she has repeated it to her mum, who has responded by correcting her in-front of me! There have been countless times when this has happened but if anything it’s made me talk with a broader accent just to make her tick, as she is very sly in how she try’s to tell me I am not speaking proper. She is also very direct to her son which is even worse.
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.
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!
Whilst doing my teacher training, the lead lecturer suggested that I attend lessons so I wouldn’t speak with a Yorkshire accent. I didn’t.
I was once marked down by a lecturer in Austria for speaking with a Yorkshire accent instead of RP in an EFL class. English is not my native language. Now I have a Welsh accent from when I did my PhD in dialectology at Swansea University. I’m proud of it.
I remember being so happy I’d made a friend on my first day at uni. Later that day I heard her mocking the way I said ‘cake’ (in my Yorkshire accent) to another student.
My girlfriend at uni (now wife) admitted that she didn’t believe I’d really got 4 As at A level because of how stupid I sounded with my Yorkshire accent. I had to show her the certificates in the end.