Teachers with Northern accents are being told to ‘posh up’, here’s why

The way we talk can reveal a lot about us and our origins – in terms of region, class and ethnicity. The UK has a wide variety of accents but not all are created equal – with some accents deemed to be more socially acceptable than others. , lecturer in English Language at the University of Manchester writes in The Conversation. 

Maybe it’s not surprising, then, that my research has shown that teachers in the UK often feel under pressure to change their accents. Based on four studies I have conducted since 2014, it appears that many teachers – notably those from the North and Midlands – are being told by mentors to adopt a more general (less broad) version of their accents to help construct a more professional identity.

For some, this equates to linguistic prejudice (or certainly preference), yet it is disguised as being based on a need to be “better understood” by the children they are teaching.

The Department for Education states that teachers in England must:

Demonstrate an understanding of and take responsibility for promoting high standards of literacy, articulacy and the correct use of standard English.

But while this makes clear the need to use standard English, there is no mention of accents. And yet some mentors of trainee teachers are essentially asking them to make their regional accents sound less, well, regional.

A brief history of accents

Received Pronunciation (RP) was historically the standard British accent. And while it still exists, it is a class-based accent rather than a regional one. This is the accent deemed to be “posh British” and is still regarded somewhat as the accent benchmark – in as much as other accents are compared with it.

Outside RP, all British accents are, by definition, regional. And yet, for each region there are different incarnations of the given accent. The Mancunian accent, for example, comes in several varieties which could range from “broad” to “posh” via somewhere in between – deemed to be a more “general” sounding accent.

While most people generally have an intuitive notion of what constitutes these three varieties for each regional accent, no one has any real knowledge as to what this means at a purely phonological level – until now.

Defining features

Based on my studies, it appears that broad accents – those which might be considered off limits for some professions – fall into one, or both, of two categories: “reductions” and “linguistic giveaways”.

Reductions simply refer to losing a sound, or sounds, from a word, making it shorter in duration – such as “playin’” for “playing”. Reduced forms or reductions can contribute to accents being perceived as broad. And this can then lead to stereotyping of the speaker with assumptions being made as to his or her background, education level and social status – perceived though they may be.

Linguistic giveaways, meanwhile, are certain sounds which are immediately recognisable as deriving from a certain region. And if the region is stigmatised, so is the accent and the speaker. In broad Liverpudlian for example, the “k” sound at the end of a word, and elsewhere, can be pronounced like a strong “h” – much like a Spanish “j” – meaning that “back” can sound more like “bahhh”.

A standard accent?

The Sutton Trust has also published research looking into the effects of accents deemed “working-class” – in other words, broad – in certain professions such as banking. The research found that young people from less affluent homes are often locked out of banking jobs because of their clothes, appearance – and accent.

The implications are that if two individuals – who are otherwise equally qualified for a job – go for an interview, the one with the broad accent will be less likely to get the job.

Perhaps, then, it’s time to have a discussion about whether or not more socially acceptable versions of regional accents should become official standards in UK workplaces. This might seem far fetched, but there is evidence that accents are being regarded as a legitimate means of judging candidates’ suitability for certain professions.

In modern day Britain, we celebrate diversity and champion equality. This is reflected in the Equality Act – by which all manner of identities are legally protected. Despite this, class remains a divisive issue and accents are still discriminated against.

Ultimately, we all have an accent of some kind, so if a candidate is otherwise fully qualified for the job, then surely in this day and age an accent shouldn’t be seen as a (linguistic) liability.

 

Read more articles in The Conversation

Do you agree? Have you found your accent to be a help or a hindrance? Has it ever been hinted that your accent should be less regional?  Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Comments

  1. Oh for pity’s sake, can’t you think of anything else? I taught in the south east for 22 years in broad scouse. As long as they understood me it didn’t matter. We had some fun sessions when we actually discussed different dialects. Teaching is proper personal interaction. Now what could I call banking?

  2. Ee by gum!

    Britain is such a class conscious place. I’ve never, ever tried to hide my ‘broad’ Northern accent, even when ridiculed for it. That’s because I’m not ashamed of who I am or where I’m from. So keep those accents, be proud of who you are, RP users will just have to get used to it.

  3. how about you go and fuck yourself, fuck the posh dialect, we are not stereotypical london drone’s. we don’t want to look like you cunt’s, be like you cunt’s or act like you fucker. keep your posh fuching shit down in the shitty south. we might have a different dialect to you fucker, but at least we can say our words correctly. can’t say the same about you posh cunt’s that put our in every word. P’s this comment is referred to those who use the fake arse english accent that no one really uses. each area has their own accent. i am more than happy with my northern dialect. i’d sooner commit suicide than sound like you fake arse fuckers. so fuck the stereotypical dialect. your all a bunch of ninnyhammer’s. bring the cockney back down there and not your fake shitty one. it is good everyone has their own form of accent. it defines who we are and where we are from.

      • if that was to me, i am glad that i do. better the nob than a fake accent talking twat lol. fyi, the don’t even teach us like that. that is just our slang. like the cockneys once had before that stereotypical posh london accent, wiped most of the broad dialect out. i say each area has their own accent. if people don’t like our dialect, or they don’t understand us, simple go back down south, i am more than happy with my northern dialect. northern way is the best way. it is good everyone has their own form of accent. it defines who we are and where we are from.” they should get used to it. who wants to really sound they them plebs that speak quennys english. i shaw don’t. That’s because I’m not ashamed of who I am or where I’m from. So keep that stereotypical london accent, in london. we don’t want that shit up here thanks. if it wasn’t to me ignore the reply

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