Studying at Edinburgh Uni is destroying my regional accent
Welcome to the rise of the Generic Uni Accent
It seems like every other week an article is published on something to do with “The Worst Accent Ever”, and it’s usually a toss up between the Brummie and the Scouse.
You even get people that take time out of their days to write about how much they despise these certain accents. But, frankly, it’s getting a bit ridiculous. A few months ago research by the University of Cambridge was published, which suggested that London was killing off local dialects across England.
Lead researcher Dr Adrian Leemann said: “There was a clear pattern of levelling towards the English of the south-east” and that “more people are using and pronouncing words in the way that people from London and the south-east do.” But I, like most people, like my accent – so I’m going to try and keep it.
For me, being from Liverpool, my accent is something I’ve always been aware of. From the phone voice my mum uses when someone she doesn’t know calls our house, to my dad constantly telling me to “stop saying like” (like I can help it).
However since I’ve gone to Edinburgh and lived with southerners my accent has dwindled slightly: I’ve gotten used to the “You hardly have an accent!” and “Oh, it’s OK, you don’t have a strong accent”.
But my question is, why is it bad to have a strong accent? And why do we insist on apologising for having one?
Once, I was in a hostel in Krakow, when an English girl who spoke with received pronunciation was chirpsing an Irish boy about his accent just outside our room. All of a sudden she blurted out: “I actually love your accent! To be fair, it could be worse – you could be a Scouser.”
When it was mentioned to her where I was from, the girl, stuttering, dug herself deeper and deeper by saying: “My sister went to uni in Liverpool so I know what it sounds like. You’re OK though, yours isn’t that strong, but you just can’t understand some of them.”
Who are the them? Who are the people who have such a strong accent you can’t understand? Why is it them and us?
In reality, the only problem with accents is how people perceive them and the assumptions they make based on them. As your accent immediately ties you to where you come from, it also ties you to the stereotype.
If you’ve got a Scouse accent you’re most likely criminal, and if you’ve got a Birmingham accent, you’re probably stupid. This is the phrase you hear most often when people talk about a particular accent they don’t like: “It just makes you sound stupid.”
This assumption transcends all social classes and occupations. For example, a couple of months ago it was revealed that actress – and Northerner – Maxine Peake was told by the BBC that she wasn’t suitable to play a role as barrister Martha Costello in a new legal drama because of her accent.
In fact, they asked her what she was “going to do” about her accent, and when she asked why she would have to do anything, they retorted: “Martha’s been to university, she’s educated.” This, frankly, hits the nail on the head. In 2016, it’s still assumed that if you have a regional accent, especially if it happens to be particularly strong, you can’t be educated.
One reason for this, and something most of us are accidentally guilty of, is the rise of the “uni” accent. When you’re constantly surrounded by people speaking with many different accents for a long period of time, it rubs off on you, and hence the Generic Uni Accent is born.
It’s the reason my brother tells me I “sound posh” when I come home from uni. In Edinburgh, it’s a shock when you hear an actual Scottish person in a tutorial, as, like all universities, most students speak with a received pronunciation accent. Therefore, when you spend all your time listening to it, it tends to censor the stronger parts of your dialect. And that’s kind of sad.
At the end of the day, your accent, like where you’re from, is something to be proud of. Being told you’re “too Northern” for a role or people assuming you’re not educated because your accent is too strong, is seriously worrying.
There are an estimated 56 different regional accents in the UK, and within them hundreds of different variations. Rather than use it as a way to make assumptions about people, it’s something we should embrace: if nothing else, accents add personality to our lives – and the fact that we judge people on them says more about us than it does about them.
There’s a phrase we have in Liverpool known as “antwacky” – it means old-fashioned and out-of-date. That’s exactly what judging people on their accent is, so leave me out of your Worst Accent Ever UK 2K16, please.