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"I haven't got an accent..."
Is RP what it was?
"She's got a really horrible accent, but I haven't got one at all..." by Philippa Law
The term 'accent' describes the combination of pitch, stresses and rhythm of someone's speech, as well as how they pronounce all their vowels and consonants. Everyone has an accent. Even if you speak like all the people around you, even if you speak modern (or traditional) received pronunciation (that is, "the regionally neutral, prestige accent of British English", as Professor David Crystal defines it), you speak with an accent. An accent is the way you speak.
Linguists don't like to think of any accent as being 'good' or 'bad' - they're all different, but equally valid. It's perfectly normal, however, for people to identify their favourite accents and the ones that set their teeth on edge. Edinburgh is regularly judged to have one of the most 'pleasant' accents in Britain, while Birmingham and London tend to come near the bottom of the list.
Attitudes towards accents are based more on social connotations and prejudices surrounding the location or social group associated with that accent than on the sound itself, as demonstrated by experiments using outsiders:
"American listeners, who do not recognise a Birmingham accent when they hear one, who know nothing about Birmingham and who probably don't even know where it is, do not find the Birmingham accent unpleasant at all. And everything they know about London leads them to find London accents highly attractive." (Bad Language, page 136: Andersson and Trudgill, 1990)
People who speak with a received pronunciation (RP) accent are commonly perceived to be more authoritative and intelligent than - but not as nice or trustworthy - as people who speak in a local accent.
"The newsreader mispronounced the word 'says'. I have noticed this mistake occurring on a number of occasions."
- complaint to BBC
Experiments have shown that even the same speaker can be perceived differently depending on what accent they're using at that moment!
Peter Trudgill explains why it is so important to be aware of attitudes towards different accents:
"RP speakers are perceived, as soon as they start speaking, as haughty and unfriendly by non-RP speakers unless and until they are able to demonstrate the contrary. They are, as it were, guilty until proven innocent. Similarly - and this is of course far more worrying - children with working class accents and dialects may be evaluated by some teachers as having less educational potential than those with middle-class accents and dialects, unless they, too, are given an adequate chance to demonstrate the contrary." (Sociolinguistics: An Introduction to Language and Society, page 195: Trudgill, 2000)