For many of us, university is the first time we throw off the constraints of our sheltered upbringings and recognise that the big wide world is filled with a huge variety of people – people who look, act and (shock horror) talk differently to us.
A multitude of regional accents is one of our country’s quirkier features, and a potentially-endless source of laughter (this reporter once spent an hour hopelessly attempting to explain the concepts of ‘owt’ and ‘nowt’ to his Devonshire flatmate). However, the ugly side of accent teasing reared its head last week when a teacher, after an Ofsted inspection, was given the improvement objective of sounding less Northern.
Some have argued that such a comment would only be made humourously. Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore the continued pertinence of class in our society, and the role of accents as a signifier of this. Our parliament is dominated by Eton-installed cut glass vowels, whilst this year a study revealed that West Midlands accents are frequently associated with stupidity, and a Black Country school banned 10 regional phrases they claim will hold students back in interviews.
But as any Northerner – in fact, any Midlander – well in all honesty, anyone born above the Watford Gap who has the audacity to venture ‘daaaan Saaaaaf’ will tell you, it can be frustrating to be constantly told you’re not speaking ‘properly’. Our language is living and changing, and the idea that anyone should have to conform to one style of speaking in the workplace or elsewhere is beyond ridiculous. Indeed, with free schools and academies throwing the education system into turbulence, if the worst children have to contend with is the occasional “why’aye pet” or “ay’oop me duck”, we should feel relieved.
Children are always the least judgmental people, so the last thing any Ofsted inspector should encourage is close-mindedness about something as trivial as accents. It’s high time we learned to look past them, and focus on what people are saying rather than simply how they say it. And if not, a swift roll/bap/cob/batch/balm-cake (delete as appropriate) to the head should knock out such silliness.