01 Jun Should we really change our accents to get where we want?
I’ve just been called up by BBC Radio Ulster to talk about regional accents. Supposedly universities are telling students to lose their accents if they want a job! Really, in this day and age? It seems ‘regionalism’ (discrimination on the basis of where you are born) is alive and well or could it just be that it provides cover for a multitude of other prejudices, all under the guise of ‘they didn’t sound right’ ?
It is certainly true people make judgements on hearing an accent and there’s plenty of surveys around telling us what accents are viewed as friendly or trustworthy and which are best in call centres!
So what are people doing when they draw conclusions on accents? Most people want a shorthand method of understanding people. Basically it’s a survival instinct, we’re looking for safety. Does this person belong to my tribe or do we share the same outlook?
Every second of every day people are processing information on people they meet, drawing information from the clues people are unintentionally giving away. It’s a shorthand to knowing someone and often more important than the words people say, for they can be moderated, but these other gems of information, accents, clothes, body language, are considered more insightful.
So yes an accent can tell you where a person comes from, probably what class they belong to, maybe even if they feel comfortable in their own skin – they haven’t got rid of their accent!
We all know people who have consciously changed their accent, they felt uncomfortable having an accent which made them stick out, and depending on age or which type of school they attended they may well have been given elocution classes to ‘tone down’ their accent. I had that too, it just didn’t really seem to work for me – either that or I rebelled!
As an aspirant employee, moving away from your home city, it might well be that ‘no accent’ means you can fit in more places. Certain types of jobs are very traditional – law, accountancy – perhaps a less individualistic accent is required so a person who is wanting to succeed in an established organisation may wish, even need, to conform. That said, the same job in a new organisation wanting to break the mould, and discover it’s company USP, might not want you to conform.
Equally, for professions which might want to engage with every part of the country then accents could be a bonus, Media, arts, PR, marketing, even politicians. We say we want our politicians to represent us and not all be of a certain class and type and an accent is certainly a distinguisher!
So find your inner voice, not just your outer voice. How do you want to be viewed, how do you want to be perceived? In my mind it’s your choice.
Finally – it was a radio interview and despite being first thing in the morning I was happy to do it, and said yes when the bombshell was delivered …..”We’ll be calling you on FaceTime” …. Really! I mean what’s the world coming to? The bonus used to be pyjamas and no make up when contributing to early morning radio shows, now it’s caught on camera it’s make up and hair done.