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20 April 2014
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Accent-uate the positive
"I arrived in the UK from the Philippines in 1975, speaking English with a West Coast American accent! This wasn't an asset in a North London comprehensive school, but over time, I managed to cultivate what someone once described as a "BBC World Service" accent. That led to being accused of being "too posh". I am now fluent in Estuary English. The accent I use varies with the situation I find myself in - although RP always works best in any situation." Erwin Tadiar from Luton

"I am quite proud of my North London RP acccent, I never have any problem being understood by foreigners, unlike some of my Scouse and Geordie friends, who often have to tone down the severity of their accents in order to be understood. And as for swearing, well there is nothing worse than an East London or Essex girl in full harangue, but whenever I hear an Irish accent saying equally profane words, it still sounds musical!" Tara London
Also on Voices
Attitudes towards accents
Elsewhere on BBCi
Queens speech 'less posh'
Rise of Estuary English
Elsewhere on the web
Estuary English


In Your Area
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Page 1 of 3
"I haven't got an accent..."
Is RP what it was?
Estuary English

"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)

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Your Comments
What kind of accent rubs you up the wrong way? Is it regional, RP or Estuary English? How do you speak yourself?

Celine from France
I am a French native speaker. I have lived in Australia for several years. I have always been ashamed of my French accent regardless Australians think it is very sexy and exotic.Both men and women were charmed by my accent and many girls told me they would have given everything to get an accent like mine. French people find it awful to speak english with a French accent. French are a bit arrogant when it comes to show what they know and speaking English with the French 'touch'is not valued. Sounding 'sexy' is not always as rewarding as one thinks. For example, people tend not to see who you really are and take the way you speak as a reflection of your personality. Sounding sexy, glamorous and sophisticated is not a bad thing until you have something important to say and nobody take you seriously.

Ieuan Williams from Manchester
I was born in west Wales, but grew up speaking Welsh as my first language - in fact, I had to learn to speak English in order to go to University. Now I work as a doctor in a major cancer hospital in south Manchester, and have worked in several major cities as well. I found that outside of Cardiff (where I trained), where people expect to hear a variety of Welsh accents, most people have great difficulty in understanding me. The only way to be understood is to adopt the "BBC" RP accent! Although this leads to the problem that speaking English as a second language leaves one with an almost "too perfect" grasp of vocabulary, combined with the RP, tends to make a lot of my nursing and medical collegues and many of my patients (who all seem to have regional variants) mistake me for some very posh, high-and-mighty Cambridge-educated doctor and feel a little resentful of this. Don't misunderstand me, I love my "real" accent, but perhaps a very thick, west-Walian first-language brogue is a little too strong for the English ear! Then again, I'd rather be assumed to be slightly haughty but knowledgable of my subject rather than assumed to be "poorly educated and thus obviously knowing nothing about medicine", as one person once told me that he thought!

Laura from London
I'm originally from Washington DC but have been living in London since 1988. I'm probably a little bit of a snob but I have always loved 'Oxford' RP and public school accents. I adored how the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret spoke. There are still lovely accents spoken by Old Etonians and Harrovians, for instance. I find Estuary very irritating because, to me, it's a dumbed-down RP. I'd almost prefer a straightforward London cockney accent to it. I can find many regional accents irritating to my ear, though I quite like many Scottish accents, especially educated Edinburgh. Most Americans speak dreadful English as well, but where I came from, it was mostly considered neutral. There were some lovely accents spoken in places like Tidewater Virginia and Charleston. I also like 'Boston Brahman'.

Sue from Singapore
Been living in Singapore all my life. However, I've been able to speak in a British accent from a very young age (like when I was 4/5 yrs old). Really fascinated with the Scottish accent & I'm practicing & working hard on it. Of course, I can do the Singapore accent pretty easily & it seems rather neutral till you step out of the country. The American accent is definitely the most fun to do & its easily understood here in Singapore. I don't think there's an accent that I particularly dislike though. I know this sounds rather cliche but all accents are unique & I enjoy listening to most accents, be it African or Australian.

Elizabeth,East mids
I dont believe accents should be a verified strata for judging people.As I do not think,newsreaders should speak in the same boring RP dialect "Sh-awe-t-lee we shall be dis-coss-ing the week-li news" It would be nice to go to Newcastle and hear them say "'ere us out like, its news like" (sorry to generalise there!) In this day and age, where public educated celebrities (LIly Allan,Luke Pritchard,Jarvis Cocker) are desperately trying to "speak street" This shows what the UK's real public warm to and what they find attractive. Sorry Tony Blair and James Blunt, RP is so pre world war. Todays smart public express themselves however they choose and if a few narrow minded snobs dont like it, tough.

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