‘People think speakers with northern England accents are less intelligent’
By: Chandrashekar Bhat
As the British Academy’s annual two-day Summer Showcase will be held later this week, a research team will explain how a regional difference in English accents could lead to prejudice.
According to the team which will set up a stall at the event, its exhibit will map the “deeply embedded prejudices towards UK accents” and how the way the language is spoken has “profound” negative social, economic and educational implications for speakers “with denigrated accents”.
Robert McKenzie, who leads the Northumbria University research project, said the accent of northern England is still stigmatised although the level has come down when compared to the past.
People with stigmatised accents are at a disadvantage in the job market and they “are less likely to be given access to social housing”, he said, adding that it has “real-world implications.”
“Denigrating accents is still allowed” while biases based on gender and sexual orientation are not, he pointed out.
“People do think that speakers in the north of England are less intelligent, less ambitious, less educated and so on, solely from the way they speak,” McKenzie told the Guardian.
“On the other hand, people in the south are thought to be more ambitious, more intelligent.”
People in the north are generally considered as being friendly, outgoing and “trustworthy salt-of-the-earth folk”, said McKenzie, whose team has been studying how accents are evaluated explicitly and implicitly.
“The negativity towards northern English speech or the northern English speaker was much more extreme, much more intense when you were looking at the implicit level. That tells us that at a conscious level, people are less prejudiced than they once were but at an implicit level we still have those biases,” he told the newspaper.
He pointed out that the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley – Jess Phillips – experiences “accentism”.
The two-day Summer Showcase, which according to the British Academy, is “a free festival of ideas for curious minds” will allow the research community to explore exhibits, enjoy stimulating talks, get advice on research funding applications, and network with researchers.