Sunday 17 January 2010

It's good to have an accent!

I was reading a few weeks ago, an article all about UK regional accents. It was assumed by some academic linguists that regional accents would eventually die out. They would all merge into one, and be replaced with a more homogenised way of speaking, with some slight regional variations.

It now seems this isn't the case and regional accents are fighting back. Far from disappearing they're growing in strength and surviving, as people begin to use their accents as a sign of identity.

I thought, I'm glad to hear it. It's good that our regional accents are not dying out!

The big city regional accents such as Scouse, Brummie, Mancunian, and Geordie are surviving and becoming more dominant and distinctive, whilst colonising surrounding areas. The accents that are struggling to survive are the smaller town and rural village accents, which are being submerged into the big city regional accents.

Being a born and bred Brummie, I've had a Brummie accent for most of my life, and despite the fact that I now live in London, I've made a conscious decision to hold onto it. Admittedly It's probably softened a bit as I've lived in London for the last eight years, but it's still there.

Dominic Watt a lecturer in forensic speech was quoted in the Sunday Times and the Telegraph saying:

'People want to protect their identity'..'You could be parachuted into pretty much any British city and the shops look the same, people dress the same and have similar pastimes and interests. What still makes these places separate and distinct is the dialect and accent.'

I couldn't agree more. Accents give you personality and character, they give you an identity. Living in London and being a Brummie my accent has become part of who I am. I like to think it's partly how people know and recognise me.

Regional accents also become more important if you end up moving to a different part of the country to where you're originally from. It's good to remember that it's not always about 'where you're at in life, but sometimes to remember where you're from'.

Every so often the media will highlight some survey that reveals the most popular and unpopular accents to have. Scottish and Irish always seem to come out on top, with Brummie and Scouse always predictably fighting it out for the least fashionable! It's good that people don't appear to take these surveys too seriously and want to hold onto their local accents.

I've never really understood why Brummie is so disliked anyway. It all comes down to what you're used to. I still think a Brummie accent sounds more like 'proper' English than for an example a Geordie accent!

I admit that in certain professions and social circles you may need to soften a distinct regional accent, but there's no reason why you should get rid of it completely.

Living in London and the Southeast, i find it noticeable that there's now just a general Southern accent some call it 'Estuary English'. From Milton Keynes down to Brighton it's all much of the same to me. Growing up in the Midlands it always amazed me how you could drive 30 - 40 minutes in the car and people would speak with a completely different accent!

Apparently this is mainly due to the fact that accents in the North and the Midlands haven't been subjected to the mass levelling of speech caused by London and its surrounding commuter belt.

What I've noticed living in London, and which has been picked up by linguists; is that your classic Cockney accent is dying out. I rarely meet anyone in London who you can say has a real Cockney accent, but then I never meet anyone who admits to being a Cockney. That accent seems to have been pushed out into Essex which has helped to create a distinct Cockney/Essex hybrid accent!

The London accent is becoming displaced by this ever increasing London 'street accent'. I call it an 'Oh my dayz' accent! It's usually kids of all races under the age of 25. You can normally hear it on the back of most London buses, with kids playing some kind of urban music like grime or UK Funky on their mobile phones, and where every sentence includes the words 'like' and ends with the word 'yeah'.

Perhaps I'm being a snob or just getting old, but I can't see how that accent will benefit these kids as they grow older or try and enter more professional job markets.

For anyone out there who like me has an accent, particularly if you're living 'down south' remember to take pride in it, and hold onto it. It's boring if we all sound and talk the same. Lets keep our local and regional identities going!


  1. Nice post, Rodney.

    I remember a study carried out a couple of years ago looking at the link between regional accents and perceived intelligence. It went along the lines of showing one group of participants pictures of a number of people and asking them to rate their intelligence purely on the basis of their appearance. A new group were then shown the same pictures, this time with voice recordings suggesting the people in the pictures were from Yorkshire. Another group, same again, this time with Brummie accents, another with Scottish accents and last, I think, with received pronunciation (or it could have been some sort of generic southern accent).

    The results would then supposedly demonstrate how intelligent people are perceived to be on the basis of their accent, and they were quite surprising.

    The group who were shown the photos along with the Yorkshire accents rated them as being the most intelligent. The Scottish accent was next, the Southern third and, I'm afraid, fourth most intelligent were the photos with no voice recordings at all. Meaning Brummie folk were perceived as being the least intelligent, less so even than people who don't say anything.

    I seem to remember the major surprise at the time was that the Scots had been knocked off the top spot by the Yorkies, as Scots had always topped previous studies of this kind. No-one seemed too shocked by the Brummies coming in last.

    I don't in any way intend this to disparage the Brummie accent (it's one of my favourites), merely to echo your own point that it always gets a hard time. I don't get it either. But if it's any consolation, I'm pretty sure it always comes out on top when people are asked to rank accents according to trustworthiness, which to my mind is a far more admirable quality than intelligence anyway.

    As an aside, what would you say about someone who has, for argument's sake, a hybrid Southern/Welsh/Irish accent? Tricky to explain, that one.

  2. Hi Tim

    Thanks for the comments. Sounds like an interesting study.

    What's always interested me is how we develop our preferences and prejudices against certain accents!

    I know it's hard to believe, but growing up I wasn't even aware I or anyone around me had an accent. It was quite a shock when I went to University, and people knew immediately I was from Birmingham.

    If you grow up where everyone sounds the same how do you know if you’re accent is fashionable or not, where do you learn this from? It must be a cultural thing, in which class and more recently the media and popular culture have a huge affect.

    I remember years ago, going on one of those cultural diversity training courses, and the women presenting it came out with a fact saying that a study revealed that the accent most likely to result in someone receiving a prison sentence in a court was Brummie accent!

    My first reaction was to think, ‘who comes out with this nonsense!’ Closely followed by, ‘how come it isn’t a Scouse accent’ and thereby revealing my own prejudices. But again where did I get the impression that a Scouse accent would be more associated with criminality?

    Needless to say, should I ever find myself up in court, I will be putting on my poshest voice!

    Going back to the original post, it doesn’t surprise me that northern accents aren’t dying out as there is much greater local and regional identity than down south. Big northern cities are more like city states with their own unique culture and identity. You can’t really say that about the South East.

    Finally, your point about having a hybrid Southern, Welsh, Irish accent. I think I know someone like that! Lol!

    Again if we’re talking about identity, then it suggests this person might be suffering an identity crisis, or perhaps they’re generally conflicted, who knows.