"It ain't what you say, it’s the way that you say it!"
Last month regional accents were highlighted in the media. The Apprentice boss Sir Alan Sugar baffled his Twitter followers by whingeing there were too many Liverpool dialects in The Responder, which ironically is set in Liverpool. And Shadow Chancellor Angela Rayner, who was born in Doncaster but brought up in Stockport, was criticised for her accent and grammar following comments she made about Boris Johnson.
Identity and heritage
Accents are an important part of our identity. Studies show that once we reach the age of five, children are more likely to speak with the accents they are surrounded by at school or in their local community. An accent also gives clues about who we are, and the community we belong to or wish to belong to.
I am originally from Yorkshire and still have the accent, despite being away from the North of England for more than 40 years. But this accent is who I am, and I am proud of my heritage. And surely it doesn’t matter how we speak if we are speaking with integrity, honesty, and decency?
But am I in a minority? Certainly, the way people have reacted to both these incidents makes me wonder if people are still judging others by their accents? How do you react when you come across someone speaking with an unusual accent?
Accentism – does it really exist?
I have a friend who also grew up in Yorkshire, yet she doesn’t have an accent. Odd you might think, but not really. When I asked her about it, she told me that as a child she was encouraged by her parents to NOT adopt the local dialect, so she could fit in anywhere
Through education and the friends, she associated with – all of whom must have been accent-free - she naturally adopted a voice that gives no hint to her origins. She could be from Surrey – something I am sure her mother is proud of!
But surely that means she is facing the world with a voice that is not hers. She doesn’t seem bothered, but to me, I question whether ditching or tweaking, your original accent just to be accepted is wrong. Surely you are undermining your sense of being and denying your culture and/or heritage?
Listen to understand!
I’m sure other people will disagree. After all, there's no such thing as a “good” or “bad” accent. But when it comes to communication there are usually two sides involved. The listener needs to be accommodating, tolerant, and adapt if necessary, and the speaker who wants to make themselves understood.
However, when it comes to accents, they do set you apart from others and can make you memorable and authentic. I believe that continuing to speak with an accent is a fantastic way of keeping the language of your hometown/area alive.
Whilst an accent can be interesting, and perhaps in some cases infuriating, the mark of a good person is the words that they choose. So be honest, polite, and empathetic. Think about the impact that your words may have on others and try to be kind whenever you can.