The English language, although used by almost all across the United Kingdom, has been mutated and altered in so many ways that sometimes we cannot even understand it ourselves. One of the main factors that affects our understanding of the language is one’s regional accent. Although most words and phrases will be comprehensible some phonetics may have changed so much that all we can do is hope that the context of what has been said makes sense in order for us to ‘fill in the gaps’. My paternal grandmother, as related to me by my father, spoke with a West Country accent. ‘West Country’ refers to a large band of accents heard in the South of England, starting about fifty miles West of London and extending to the Welsh border. The accent is not set in stone, as people are linguistically diverse within the accent. Families have their own spin on the language and towns have even more of a differentiation in their pronunciation.
One main difference between her accent and that of my family in the south-east of England would be that of her use of Rhoticity, meaning that the letter ‘R’ is pronounced after vowels. So, for example, whereas somebody from London would pronounce mother as “muthah,” somebody from Bristol would say “mutherrr“.I do not think that there is any prejudice towards those with the aforementioned accent. It does not strike me, personally, as resembling someone with a lower social class or a lower level of intelligence. Although this may not be the case with everyone’s opinions, I have never heard someone discredit another person who happens to have a West Country accent. Recent studies have shown that people from Devon – with a West Country accent – are perceived to be the friendliest people in the UK. Therefore there are positive notions towards this accent. Another variation between Britons is our idiolect and choice of vocabulary. This can largely depend on our social class, and education.
There is a huge amount of prejudice surrounding this topic and it never goes unnoticed, whether it be on the streets or in the workplace. My father works in a field where it is nearly impossible to rise through the ranks if you are not well spoken and do not show understanding of the subject in hand, which is usually done by using the semantic field associated with his profession, such as IMF- international monetary fund. PAYE- pay as you earn, and CT- corporation tax. By using his semantic field when he talks to his colleagues, he can distance himself from people who do not understand technical terms. For example, he works in a department called MTIC, which might seem confusing, but by using simple abbreviations, ‘Missing Trader Intra-Community’ can be said without everyone being able to understand. His ability to converge supports Howard Giles’ ‘Accommodation theory’. His ability to adjust his speech with a variety of classes in the work place makes it easier to communicate, and helps the people that he is talking to to feel more comfortable and may make it easier for them to understand what is being presented.
For example, when he is explaining something to me, he uses a calm tone of voice giving examples that I can relate to. However, when talking to his boss he uses an assertive, confident tone, wider vocabulary and terms that are recognised in relation to the subject. It isn’t essential to be able to converge and disguise your language using technical abbreviations but in my father’s profession, where there is an element of guardedness, it may be necessary that not everyone knows exactly what he is saying. I think that some people ‘take it the wrong way’ when technical terms are used around them.
I would definitely prefer to have everything explained to me in a way that I could clearly understand, rather than feel like I am being talked about between people who I cannot understand because they have diverged away from the language that I use. However, this simply is not the case. The reason that technical terms are used is so that it is easier for people who share a skillset to understand each other, it is not there to confuse the public or make it look as though they are superior. If everyone knew this there would be less ‘tension’, because they know the true purpose of the divergence.
At the other end of the spectrum, age-wise and grammar-wise, there is my 5 year old nephew, Ollie. He speaks quickly and sometimes gets his word order incorrect because he says things in a rush. He uses lots of fillers, such as ‘like’ and ‘erm’ which at his age is not a problem as such but it is a habit that would be easier to break while he is still young. His use of fillers is easily corrected by allowing him time to think about what he wants to say before he says it. When he talks to adults however, he converges by slowing his speech and the general quality improves. I think this is due to pressure to get things correct, and even now, at 14, I get self-conscious when I’m talking to some adults, especially when I am trying to make a good first impression. I think we share our main worry: being judged.
Ollie has language that he uses when he is with me and also that which he uses when he is with adults. Although this is fine, I would advise him that as he grows up and reaches the stage of sociolinguistic maturity, not to deploy the language he uses with me in formal settings. He should be articulate, as he is a smart child, and he should use this to his advantage. I think the language he uses is so different depending on who he is talking to because he is so young. Nobody expects 5 year old boys to be talking with perfect pronunciation and using extensive vocabulary – we would see it as almost out of place.
As he grows up, if he were to speak perfectly clear English I think that it is quite possible that he would be stereotyped by his peers, as being ‘posh’ or a ‘know it all’. There are several problems that arise from stereotyping. I consider myself well educated, but if I did not use Standard English or Received Pronunciation I might not be given the credit that I deserve. I could be wrongly judged and that could be put against me when I am trying to get a job or I’m talking to my superiors. Prejudice and judgement surround us. It affects our decisions on who to be friends with and who not to trust. There are accents and idiolects that we are drawn to, for example, when I think of someone that I trust, straight away they are well spoken and educated.
One way of reducing judgement on your speech is to achieve sociolinguistic maturation. This is the stage where you stop adjusting your speech to converge with the people you talk to. My sister is 12 years older than me, and she achieved sociolinguistic maturity at about 19. She may have reached the stage earlier but seeing as I couldn’t understand the language she used with my parents when I was a lot younger, it may be the case that she had changed the way she spoke to me, I just could not understand it. The public’s view to this subject is constantly changing. When there are mature children that speak to everyone in the same way, they can often be labelled in a certain light which is completely unfair.
If they have decided who they are and how they want to be perceived it is incredibly rude to judge them further just for making that choice. On the other hand, an adult that hasn’t reached sociolinguistic maturation may be labelled ‘stupid’ or ‘common’ because they are unsure of how they should speak or are maybe simply surrounded by people who are constantly diverging. I think that reaching the stage when you speak towards everyone in the same manner shows a great deal of self-awareness and confidence in yourself. It makes yourself known from then on who you are and by what means you have chosen to communicate. In conclusion, it is apparent that my family use a wide variety of spoken language features, whether they be natural, through choice or for ease of communication.