What’s in an accent?

What’s in an accent?

Birmingham is my home town. It is also the origin of what is widely considered the worst of all British regional accents, a sing-song nasal mangling of the English language incorrectly known as a ‘Brummie accent’. Class and accent are inextricably linked in Britain, and Brummagem, the correct name for this regional accent, was not tolerated in my home. Oh no! We were far to classy to speak like that. Nevertheless, when I telephone my family, I am always shocked to hear that even my posh brothers and sisters have Midland’s accents. Even I, who worked hard to rid my speech of any trace of this hard, fast, urban accent a good 20 years ago, sometimes come out with something with such a rise-fall-rise intonation that it gives away my origins, particularly when I have drink taken.

But the fact is, that everyone has an accent. What is amazing that we fetishize some accents and distain others! I would just love to be wined and dined by someone with an enchanting French or Portuguese accent, while having sweet nothings whispered in my ear in a Brummigem accident just wouldn’t light my fire!

It is obviously impossible not to have any accent at all, because we pick up ways of saying things from our families, schools and local regions, but it can be troublesome if the accent is so strong that you can’t understand it. I will always remember strolling down a local street with a friend of mine, who insisted that we duck into a shop and hide when we spotted an acquaintance from Newcastle up ahead. People from this neck of the woods, the Tyneside area of North East England, have a very hard-to-understand way of speaking called Geordie, which is a continuation and development of the language spoken by Anglo-Saxon settlers. My friend just couldn’t face seeing him after having to spend an entire evening at a dinner party unable to understand a single word he said! So we hid and came out when he had gone.

Yet again, the Geordie dialect is associated with having a working-class background, although a 2008 survey in British newspapers found the Geordie accent “the most attractive in England”. Very surprising…

A Liverpool accent will always make me think of the Beatles. This accent is called Scouse, and it is very easy to recognise, and is much cooler than a Brummie or Geordie accent in my opinion. People who speak with a Liverpool accent (scousers) use colourful language and sound quite nasal.

At the other end of the poshness scale, my dear friend is very proud that she speaks with Received Pronunciation, an accent of Standard English. Once known as “the King’s English” it has high social prestige in Britain, however, I have noticed that when she is uncomfortable or meets someone new, her voice becomes posher and posher until she would be quite at home in a crown or tiara. The downside of this poshness is that it associated with power, money and influence… and with undeserved privilege.

Which is your favourite English accent?


Writer: Juliet Allaway

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