English is a language spoken all around the world, and as expected, people use different accents and dialects as a result of their history or first language. For some people, accent is something that does not impact communication itself (as long as it is comprehensible), therefore, it is not significant. However, accents can be used as a form of abuse and are clearly impactful in the big picture when we look at our social structures. Opinions on specific accents vary, however, by conducting a simple survey we can find out the general perception of our society on certain accents. Views of accents are subjective, not objective. But there are social trends from people in the south of england.
London – stylish, fashionable
BBC – educated, standard
Liverpool – far away, strange, odd
Urban accents – poverty, not positive
Georgie – humorous, comic, rather uneducated/stupid
Why there is no such thing as WRONG
Using non-standard dialectal features of language is perceived as wrong, which is in itself a wrong statement. At the beginning, there was no standard english and everyone spoke with some regional accent, later, standard english was developed as a national dialect. Which means that saying “She don’t know how to do that” is wrong, because the correct version should be “She doesn’t know how to do that”, is irrelevant and deluded view. Standard english as we know it, was developed only after, regional dialects were already in use, therefore, standard english is not the first, most correct version of english. Standard english is a variety of english that is no longer tied up to a particular region. StE can be defined formally. It was developed from the range of dialects that existed in the 14th century, and it is based on the east midland dialect and particularly the dialect of london. The reason for its emergence was partly a developing sense of a national identity.
To give an example, a research conducted by Romaine, on post vocalic R in Reading and New York, shows the reason why thinking of language as being good or bad is fundamentally wrong. In New York, the higher class a person is, the more likely they are to pronounce the letter r. On the other hand, in Reading, the lower class a person is, the more likely they are to pronounce the letter r. This means that a working class man from Reading is seen as very high class to someone from New York. And, an upper class man from New York will sound very lower class to someone from Reading. This suggests that the nture of attitudes to (not only) accents are arbitrary and social, without logical grounding.
The issue with accents mostly comes down to accentism, a term that refers to discrimination against individuals using non-standard accents. This form of discrimination is still socially accepted and harms individuals ranging from children to adults. The fact is that those people are not responsible for the way they speak and should not be at a disadvantage. Language is tied up with our social identities: class, age, gender, ethnicity, group memebership. These are the things that determine our accent, dialect and languge itself.
RP and daily accent use
When it comes to RP (Received Pronunciation), also known as Queen’s English, which is the standard accent of English in the British Isles, there are assumption made on the go when people hear someone use this accent. Speaker is perceived as more intelligent, confident and ambitious. They are also perceived as competent, reliable and authoritative. This is the current social view, however, attitudes to RP are changing rapidly and nowadays, young people perceive it negatively (poshness, unfashionable).
Accent convergence and divergence is something we do naturally, and we use each depending on the social status of the person (or people) we are talking to, or our goal in the conversation. Convergence refers to changing our accent to be closer to the other person accent-wise, and Divergence to changing our accent to create distance. For example, upward convergence is something we might want to do on a job interview. These are the different types of accent convergence and divergence we can encounter on a daily basis.
Upward convergence → changing your accent to sound more formal in order to match the other person
Downward convergence → changing your accent to sound less formal in order to match the other person
Mutual convergence → Both people trying to have the same accent
Upward divergence → changing one’s accent to sound more formal in order to show superiority
Downward divergence → changing one’s accent to sound less formal in order to distant themself from the other person
Mutual divergence → one speaker trying to sound more formal and the other less formal
Why should I care?
Language is something we use on a daily basis and being knowledgable in the area can improve our life significantly both in the workplace and personal life. Identifying certain patterns can help improve your relationships and create comfort for the people around you.