BLOG: Accentism – rife in modern Britain
BBC Breakfast reporter and presenter Steph McGovern hit headlines this week after she said she would be paid more if she sounded posher, sparking debate about the perception of regional accents.
Senior Lecturer in English Josiane Boutonnet says, yes, ‘accentism’ is still widespread in the UK:
Linguistic discrimination or accentism (a term we owe to Dr Alexander Baratta) is not new and is still rife in modern Britain.
Employers readily admit to making discriminating decisions based on regional accents. Political correctness has not reached the realm of cardinal vowels, it would seem.
Studies which evaluate people’s attitudes towards varieties of a language are not new either.
Academics were already talking about this in the 1970s. Other studies have followed since and some regional accents tend to be constant contenders at the top of the list of the most un-aesthetically pleasing human sounds produced.
The results of the ComRES survey on regional accents in 2013 showed the Liverpool accent was viewed as the most un-intelligent, based on a poll. Almost 30% of all people who participated in the survey claimed to feel discriminated against due to their accent.
An article in the Telegraph in 2015, based on a study done by the University of South Wales on dialect and perceived intelligence, concluded that speaking in a Birmingham accent is viewed as being less attractive than staying completely silent.
But is it also possible to sound too posh to earn the dosh? It depends on the job, obviously. It is important to remember, however, that attitudes towards accents are tied to attitudes towards groups of people, what they represent, their social status, and their power, or lack of.
It has nothing to do with the inherent linguistic properties of their speech, as anyone who has studied the history of a language will tell you.
- Josiane Boutonnet is an expert in language and humour at the University’s School of Humanities.
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