The way we talk can reveal a lot about us and our origins – in terms of region, class and ethnicity. The UK has a wide variety of accents but not all are created equal. With some accents deemed to be more socially acceptable than others.
Recent research from Manchester University shows that teachers in the UK often feel under pressure to change their accents. Based on four studies conducted since 2014. Many teachers – especially from the North and Midlands – are being told by mentors to ‘posh up’. Essentially, they are being told adopt a more general (less broad) version of their accents. To help construct a more professional identity.
For some, this equates to linguistic prejudice (or certainly preference). The argument is that it is disguised as being based on a need to be “better understood” by the children they are teaching.
The Department for Education states that teachers in England must:
‘Demonstrate an understanding of and take responsibility for promoting high standards of literacy, articulacy and the correct use of standard English.’
Although this makes clear the need to use standard English, there is no mention of accents. And yet some mentors of trainee teachers are essentially asking them to make their regional accents sound less, well, regional.
Received Pronunciation (RP) was historically the standard British accent. And while it still exists, it is a class-based accent rather than a regional one. This is the accent deemed to be “posh British” and is still regarded somewhat as the accent benchmark. It is the benchmark in as much as other accents are compared with it.
There is still a prevailing assumption that received pronunciation is the most desirable classroom voice.
Outside RP, all British accents are, by definition, regional. And yet, for each region there are different manifestations of the given accent. The Mancunian accent, for example, comes in several varieties which could range from “broad” to “posh” via somewhere in between – deemed to be a more “general” sounding accent.
Most people generally have an intuitive notion of what constitutes these three varieties for each regional accent. However, no one has any real knowledge as to what this means at a purely phonological level.