Blaise Tapp: Regional accents need to be preserved at all costs

It’s more than 30 years since I first made the move from the North West to the South Coast and I’ve been zigzagging the country ever since.

By Jane Chippindale
Tuesday, 21st June 2022, 2:58 pm
Updated Tuesday, 21st June 2022, 3:09 pm

Blaise Tapp writes: Subsequent stints living on Merseyside, deepest Gloucestershire, back to the suburbs of Manchester, before settling, for now anyway, in the soft belly of West Sussex have played havoc with my accent.

I’ve yet to meet anybody who sounds just like me and as a consequence, nobody has ever correctly placed my accent, which is exactly how I like it. Although clearly born and raised somewhere off the northern stretch of the M6, I also typically say grarse and carstle – because going to school in the south tends to do that to your vowels.

That’s not to say that I didn’t work hard on retaining my accent as a teenager, so hard in fact that I ended up sounding like the lovechild of Jack Duckworth and Bet Lynch for a while.

DIALECT: Regional accents should be cherished. Photo: AdobeStock

It did the trick because the way I spoke in the early ‘90s set me apart from the crowd. I was something of a curiosity and I largely embraced it.

Being different had some drawbacks as I regularly had my leg pulled by young local herberts who would routinely chirp ‘ay up’ whenever I opened my mouth and I also received a couple of knuckle sandwiches for being a ‘northern git’.

But, despite these unfortunate brushes with ignoramuses, I am pretty confident that the way I speak hasn’t held me back in life. I have had one decent career and I’m now doing alright on my new chosen path, not to mention the fact that I have been fully embraced by my local community.

I realise that this is not everybody’s experience and last week I learned a new word, accentism.

Apparently, accentism is the discrimination of others because of what they sound like and, according to a newly published report, can cause “profound” social, educational and economic hardship for those with denigrated accents. Especially northerners.

The four year study by Northumbria University revealed that participants were much more prejudiced when researchers played them a northern accent, with some describing the samples they heard as sounding “less intelligent, less ambitious and less educated”.

The report suggests that students with northern accents are less likely to secure spots at top universities while people with some accents were more likely to be found guilty of a crime in court. That’s truly terrifying.

Judging somebody by how they talk is, in my experience, almost always a foolish thing to do. I’ve met people with three university degrees who sound like Worzel Gummidge and we’ve all listened to enough second rate politicians to know that speaking like you went to Eton isn’t necessarily an indication of intelligence.

I love regional accents and the fact that they can change within a matter of miles.

People in Chorley sound different to folk who live just down the road in Wigan, while there is no confusing the inhabitants of Portsmouth and Chichester, which are just 15 miles apart.

Sometimes it’s a bit trickier for the uninitiated – you confuse a Sunderland resident for a Geordie at your peril.

If you’re proud of your roots then you won’t mind one bit if somebody knows where you’re from the moment that you say hello and the fact that we now hear all sorts of regional dialects whenever we switch on the telly or the radio, tells you how far we’ve come since the days when every broadcaster spoke like a Royal butler.

There is a risk that people who want to get on in certain careers in London and the wider south, will work on softening their accents – a bit like the posh phone voice that everybody’s mum has.

Discrimination of any kind isn’t to be tolerated, which is why regional accents need to be cherished and preserved at all costs.