Have you been watching the Olympics? Have you seen Yorkshire fly?
Did you know I am from Yorkshire and couldn’t be prouder of my northern heritage right now!
So what fab timing to introduce James Christie, writing on behalf of the wonderful craft company Baker Ross, who looks at whether having a regional accent will affect a child’s life chances ……..
The other day something strange happened. My four-year-old nephew Charlie expressed a wish to have a bath – an unusual enough occurrence in itself – and he pronounced the word ‘bath’ with a Yorkshire accent. Charlie’s mum, my sister Jolene, like me, was born and raised in Brighton, on England’s south coast so I had rather presumptuously assumed that when he started forming full sentences he would speak with a southern accent. It is at this point that I should explain that Charlie’s Yorkshire pronunciation of the word ‘bath’ (think of how Geoffrey Boycott might have intoned the word before his voice broke) is not entirely mysterious. You hear of people banging their head and suddenly speaking with a French accent even though they have never been to France but this isn’t the case with Charlie as I am sure that his Yorkshire accent is related to the fact that his Dad comes from Yorkshire. However, as Charlie’s Mum comes from down south in Brighton, his Dad comes from Yorkshire and they all live in the Midlands I would have thought that there is a 33.33 recurring chance that his accent would be southern.
But does it really matter what accent a child or adult has – Britain has many different regional accents and surely we should celebrate the differences in dialect? Well, according to a fascinating news article posted on the BBC website in February 2012, children’s pronunciation of words can affect their learning opportunities. The report highlighted how a primary school in Basildon, Essex, is currently teaching its children how to talk ‘posh’ and pronounce words without dropping vowels as many Essex people do! These elocution lessons are nothing to do with snobbery and everything to do with improving the children’s spelling as it has been found that many children spell words as they say them. So, for instance a child will spell the word ‘think’ as ‘fink’ if they pronounce it as ‘fink’. Or, to give a northern example, the word ‘graph’ will often have the incorrect spelling ‘graf’ if pronounced that way.
There is certainly a good case that being capable of pronouncing a word in the Queen’s English (like a BBC newsreader from the 1930s or like Prince Charles does today) can help children’s spelling – even if children still choose to speak in their regional dialect. But does it really affect your life chances if you speak with a regional accent? I would think that this isn’t the case and that the important thing is not what accent you have but how clearly you can make yourself understood. I know people with a Brighton accent who, because they mumble or speak quietly, are harder for me to understand than people with a broad Scottish highlands accent who speak at a good volume and express themselves well. The only time I can imagine a regional accent affecting someone’s chance of success at a job interview is if someone applied for a job as a newsreader or radio or television presenter. The BBC doesn’t seem to insist on its serious news presenters having an identical accent but it does seem to have a list of regional accents which are deemed acceptable and one which is deemed unacceptable. The soft Welsh accent of newsreader Huw Edwards is clearly on the approved list but it is still hard to imagine a time when the broad Brummie accent of Adrian Chiles will read the headlines after the chimes of Big Ben on News at Ten.
Television clearly had and still has a big influence on the way we, and our children, speak. Was it really a coincidence that after Australian soap operas arrived on British TV in the 1980s, many younger viewers started saying sentences which rose in pitch at the end as if every utterance was a question? For instance a statement like “its five o’clock” would, when given the imported Australian inflection sound like a query: “It’s five o’clock?” I wonder if Chinese soap operas had become popular in the 1980s whether more of us would be speaking with Chinese accents. From my experience, language and accent seems to be very elastic. I know many Southern people who pronounce the word ‘past’ with a Northern accent. and the Northern pronounciation of the word ‘bastard’ has been popular for many years in the South for reasons I’ve never quite fathomed out! It seems that many modern young Britons pronounce words according to how pleasing they find the sound of the word. So, if you are a young southerner but prefer the sound of ‘graf’ to ‘graph’ then that’s often how you will say the word. A bath might look much the same in Yorkshire as it does in Brighton but isn’t it nice that young kids have the choice of how they pronounce it!
James Christie writes Baker Ross. You can find some great craft ideas for kids here.