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Speaking proper: social mobility and ‘accentism’

I mentioned this last week in a post about accents in urban music so I thought I’d repost the full piece. Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

New research from Manchester University has found that many people feel unfairly judged because of how they speak, in a manner similar to racism. Some of those surveyed for the research didn’t mind changing their accent in order to get on in the world, whereas others said they felt pressure to speak differently, leading to a sense of leading a sort of double life: speaking ‘properly’ at work and naturally at home.

Suzanne Moore also wrote a very interesting and quite bold piece in the Guardian a few weeks ago, about how other research has found that a majority of British people believe a good grasp of English is essentially to being British’. She makes the point that speaking fluent English is not simply about conforming to an idea of being British; it’s more to do with the opportunities – employement, social, cultural – available to you as a migrant if you can speak the language.

I think the same is true of accents. it’s a shame that some respondents in the Manchester survey felt like impostors when they changed their accents: I assume they don’t feel ‘fake’ when they put on a suit and tie for work, even though that’s not what they’d normally wear at home.

Just as dressing to impress can boost your confidence, being confident that you are truly being heard when you speak gives you a sense of freedom and power. It can help you feel more at home in your workplace, or among new people, in new situations.

Yes that’s right, the work I do is about building a better world, my friends. I expect to be knighted for services to social cohesion very soon.

Seriously though, I don’t believe people should lose their accents. Some people say, ‘oh I hate the such-and-such accent, it’s so annoying’, and that’s just rude: my work is absolutely not about pandering to some people’s prejudices. But if your accent is tricky for some to understand, why let it hold you back?

Do give these articles a look, if you have time – here they are again:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/28225710

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/17/learning-english-choice-work-britishness?CMP=twt_gu

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