English Copywriter in Paris: accent-uating class difference

In my last post I talked about accents when speaking foreign languages. Now my musings have moved on to accents in English.

I keep coming back to the question of how far we judge people by their accents.

A memory from my Cambridge uni days suddenly springs to mind. Still dominated by middle class southerners, the university offers little accent variation and most students breaking the norm desperately tried to unbreak it. Yet, I still have vivid images of one fellow student, from Manchester if I remember correctly, refusing to tone down her heavily enunciated vowels. She stood out, but she was proud of it. For her, this accent was an uncompromising part of her who she was.

And, rightly so.

In the world of work, many strive to be neutral in order to get ahead. Neither too posh nor too “common”.  Both extremes could prove counterproductive. Just as strong regional accents (Liverpool, Birmingham etc.) are often mistakenly associated with limited education and intelligence, an Eton drawl can create quite a backlash against the rich and overprivileged.

Stay neutral. Stick to the middle ground. Don’t stand out.

Yet, I can’t help feeling that this desire to conform to an idealised standard (RP or “BBC” English) impoverishes the English language. If we take out all the soul, character and uniqueness, what are we left with?

Thankfully in many parts of the country regional difference is alive and kicking – the Northern Irish is officially sexy and northern accents are on the up!



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