When you hear the word accent, where do your thoughts go? To the fair Emerald Isle where Irish brogue tickles your senses? To Bonsai Beach and laid-back Aussie? To bustling, booming cities with accents as diverse as the many cultures that makes up places like New York or London?
Whilst we all have our favorite accents and those that make us slightly weak at the knees, let’s take a moment to think about those underdogs of accents that we either dislike hearing or are embarrassed about having for ourselves.
America’s Ugliest Accent Tournament
Yes, this is actually a thing. In 2014, a poll was run by Gawker to determine which of 16 cities held the dubious title of being the home of America’s ugliest accent. With a lineup that wouldn’t have looked out of place on an NHL schedule, it was decided after many rounds and much consideration that the Pittsburgh accent was the biggest offender. Pittsburghese is a very strong accent that is, for some, grating to the ear. The pronunciation of the word doing becomes doyn is an excellent example of how it might sound, should you not be able to ‘picture’ it for yourself. However, it should be pointed out that not everyone in Pittsburg is ashamed of their accent: this article describes it as both rough, and discordant, but ultimately beautiful. What do you think?
Worse than staying silent?
It’s true: the Brummie accent leaves a lot to be desired on the accent palette, but we are not sure if this survey is correct, or even particularly fair. According to the study, those that participated in the survey but said nothing at all were thought to be more intelligent than those who answered questions correctly but with a Brummie accent. We think that’s a little cruel, but who are we to judge? If you’ve not had the pleasure of hearing the most annoying, embarrassing accent to taint the British Isles, have a listen here and make up your mind for yourself.
It isn’t just the native English speaker that is embarrassed by their accent
…because French people who speak English as a second language are often so mortified by how they sound when they do converse in English, that they avoid speaking the language at all. A Euro stat study in 2013 found that within the European Union, France was the second least confident country when it comes to speaking English. We find this remarkable, since so many of us swoon and sway just at the slightest hint of a French accent.
And even the most holy get it wrong…
…for example, the Dalai Lama, whose unfortunate mispronunciation of the word forget caused the ultimate embarrassment for both him and those around him.
Learning a new language? Check out our free placement test to see how your level measures up!
But why so embarrassed?
Why are accents embarrassing? Why do so many of us feel the need to adopt changes to our native tongues?
Stereotyping tells us that accents such as Texan are unfairly associated with a lack of IQ. In the case of those accents we mock and ridicule in the UK, accents like Brummie, Geordie and Liverpudlian are looked down upon as though anything that is not the Queen’s English is simply common. Such snobbery leads to a homogenizing of dialects that we feel takes something away from the joy of regional accents.
As well as blatant snobbery, around a quarter of the population of the UK feels discriminated against in terms of their accent when it comes to competition within the job market. With eight in ten employers openly admitting to discrimination based on regional accents, is it any wonder that one in five Brits alters or tones down their accent for job interviews?
New York, New York
Thanks to many TV shows identifying criminals as being from New York, many New Yorkers have also attempted to drop or tone down their accents. One New Yorker who is, however, unabashedly unashamed of his native accent is Bernie Sanders. His accent identifies his background as being that from a lower middle class Jewish family, and he makes no attempt to curb his pronunciation at all: you can see him going all out New Yorker in this video.
Perhaps not all changes to accents are deliberate or calculative in order to obtain the job of our dreams. In a study of speech patterns in Philadelphia since the 1970s, the state appears to be pulling linguistically away from its southern neighbors to realign itself with those in the north, and no one is entirely sure why.
Times are a-changing, and as our vocabulary is altered by what happens in the world around us, perhaps it is only natural to expect accents to evolve along with every other aspect of language as well. We personally think that accents should be celebrated and cherished; how about you?