There's still a hierarchy of accents in Britain

“It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without another Englishman despising him,” wrote George Bernard Shaw in the forewordPygmalionin 1913.Current headlinessuggest that accent bias (or “accent”) Is not a relic of the past but continues to spoil the university experience of many students. Even at northern universities, students from northern England are commented on and ridiculed for their accents.

In the UK there is a hierarchy of accents that little has changed over the years. The accents of the UK’s highest classes are viewed as neutral, “accentless” and correct, while others are viewed as divergent or inferior and are often stigmatized. As such, those with “non-standard” accents are considered legitimate and allowable targets for comment and judgment. You are also saddled with an obvious responsibility to you Change the way they sound.

The higher-class standard accent – “preserved pronunciation” – is consistently rated as the highest on scales like prestige and perceived intelligence. Such judgments constantly reproduce and reinforce social inequalities.

The relationship between the ability to speak a certain way and intelligence is particularly relevant in the university context, where this particular trait is most valued. Being able to sound smart in a classroom directly means gaining recognition and respect from peers and teachers. The effects of accentism on the job market are another consequence for the students.


Five years ago then Minister of Labor Esther McVey made a plea for employers to look beyond an applicant’s accent. This is all very good, but MPs themselves are shamelessly mocked for their accents (including the deputy opposition leader Angela Rayner ) it is difficult to reconcile the best wishes of policymakers with the realities of our prejudices. While it is illegal under UK law to discriminate against a person on the basis of protected properties Like gender, race, religion, or disability, the accent is not recognized in this list.

Addressing these prejudices can be an uphill battle. We become aware of accent differences at an early age, in children as young as five months Demonstrating a preference for a familiar accent over an unfamiliar one. Children from three years demonstrated the ability to group speakers according to regional accent differences.

This categorization process defines the building blocks for social judgments. As soon as group membership is perceived based on the accent, it is no longer just a sign of regional origin, but associated with wider stereotypes. Accents are thus associated with being lazy, wrong, feminine, friendly, aloof, etc. – and these traits are then assigned to anyone who speaks in that way.

Such judgments have nothing to do with linguistic features – no English dialect is inherently better, more beautiful or more correct – but rather represent a form of classicism. As such, accentism often reflects prejudices in disguise. When we judge a person’s characteristics by their accent, we are not judging them on their own merits, but rather making assumptions about their social class, education, and ethnicity based on how they speak. Of course, these assumptions are often wrong.

The Cockney Diaspora

One recently Guardian Investigation The accent that students from the north of England face at elite universities across the country has rightly been highlighted. Discrimination against northern accents is a common topic in the news, but research cannot reduce the accent to “south good, north bad”. Actually, Research has shown consistently that some of the most stigmatized accents in Britain are actually spoken in the south east of England – Essex in particular.

This is a relatively recent development brought about by the widespread relocation of working class Cockney speakers to the outskirts of London, to the home countries and to Essex in what is known as ” Cockney Diaspora ”Since the turn of the 20th century. In the 1980s, these Essex communities, which had been predominantly working-class, began to transform themselves through broader education, employment, and home ownership. This led to an association of the Essex accent with upstart and the Nouveau riche .

flashy and materialistic “Essex Man” and “Essex Girl” and their accents often mocked and imitated reflect the middle class gateway to social status. For those of Essex, their homeland, accent and background have become a humorous anecdote at best, and a burden at worst. Indeed, just because of the accent, young people (18-33) in South East England consistently evaluate Speakers in East London and South Essex are more negative and consider them less intelligent.

The university is a place and a time when people from all over the country and around the world come together. This can have very interesting effects on students’ accents as they could start naturally change the way that they speak because of their new surroundings. This is a completely normal process called accommodation. It is not the same as the forced undermining of credibility and intelligence through ridicule and stereotyping of a person’s regional accent.

There are many interesting things to learn about how someone from another part of the country pronounces a word differently or uses a different word for the same thing. For example, have you ever seen how many different words there are for a? bun? We need to counter our prejudices by understanding and celebrating this diversity rather than ridiculing those who do not adhere to an ideological standard based on discrimination from the start.

Monika Schmid, Professor of Linguistics, University of Essex ;; Amanda Cole, Postdoc (Institute for Analytics and Data Science) Institute for Language and Linguistics, University of Essex , and Ella Jeffries, Lecturer in Linguistics, University of Essex

This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.


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