UK: Accent discrimination is alive and kicking 

Angel of the North, Gateshead, UK. Credit Wikimedia

The British Academy are to feature a large-scale project exploring accent discrimination as academics argue that accent-ism is alive and well in Britain in 2022.

Though people form judgements about others from the way they speak, listeners are often unaware of their deeply embedded ‘implicit’ biases. 

Dr Robert McKenzie who leads the Northumbria University project said: “This is the prejudice that can dare speak its name, we are not allowed to be biased in terms of gender, we are not allowed to be biased in terms of sexual orientation.”

“But denigrating accents is still allowed,” he said. “You just have to watch an episode of The Simpsons to see the way people from the southern United States are depicted. It is surprising I think that people still get away with it.”

Dr McKenzie added “For people with strong northern accents, the conclusions are not good. 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,” 

“On the other hand, people in the south are thought to be more ambitious, more intelligent.”

People in the north were also “stereotyped as being friendly, outgoing and trustworthy salt-of-the-earth folk,” he added. 

Dr McKenzie continued  “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.”

“A century ago, George Bernard Shaw wrote: ‘It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him.’”

“That might not quite be the case today but the prejudices remained,” said Dr McKenzie. “The north of England is becoming less stigmatised but the change is very, very slow.”

“It is easy to come across as really po-faced and tell people they shouldn’t be prejudiced, but it is important.”

“We do find that children with stigmatised accents are less likely to get high marks at school. People are more likely to be found guilty in court. They are less likely to be offered a job after an interview. They are less likely to be given access to social housing.”

“These things do have real-world implications.”


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Written by

Anna Ellis

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