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Changing the accent and speech to sound more educated

keep-calm-and-love-british-accents-23

A school in Middlesbrough has produced a list of incorrect words and banned its students from using them.  The aim is to enable the children to use correct English so they will not be discriminated against in job interviews.  The banned words include northern expressions such as “nowt,” “I dunno,” and “gizit ere.”

It is good that the teachers have the interests of their students at heart, and show concern about their future, and parents seem to be generally supportive, judging by press reports.

[The head teacher] said: “I don’t want the children to be disadvantaged. Using standard English in applications and job interviews is important. You don’t want the children to lose their identity, but you do want them to be able to communicate properly with people and be understood.”

She is correct in saying that people are judged by the way they speak. Whether or not this should happen, it certainly does.  We even say things such as “he spoke with an educated accent” that emphasize this.  I have on occasions helped friends who wished to change their accent to be more in line with Standard (southern) English.

In practice there are two sounds that matter, the short ‘a’ and the hard ‘u.’  In northspeak the ‘a’ in ‘castle’ is pronounced as a short vowel like the one in ‘cat.’  In southspeak it is long and rhymes with ‘parcel.’  In northspeak most of the ‘u’ sounds are hard, and the ‘u’ in ‘bucket’ is pronounced like those in ‘butcher’ or ‘sugar.’  In southspeak most of the ‘u’ sounds are soft, and the one in ‘butter’ is not pronounced as in butcher.  If those two sounds are changed, which most people can achieve quite quickly, the accent changes.  The more difficult one is the internal ‘g’ as in ‘singer.’  In southspeak this is more like a brief glottal stop, but in northspeak it is pronounced as in ‘finger.’  It takes longer to separate the words that do feature the internal ‘g’ from those that do not.  It would be good to have everyone able to fulfil their potential, and if their speech patterns or accent cause them to be judged unfairly, they should be able to change them.

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