This week one of Middlesbrough’s better known TV personalities, BBC Breakfast presenter Steph McGovern, has been in the news.
As a regular on a BBC news programme, she often receives disparaging comments about her regional accent. Apparently, many viewers still believe that only those with an RP or inoffensive accent should be rewarded with the opportunity to appear on the nation’s screens. Everyone else should ‘get back to their council estate.’
According to Steph – who presents the business segments on BBC Breakfast and studied science at University College London – over the years, she has had her intelligence questioned thanks to her accent.
As a smart girl with a Teesside accent, I guess I should be worried.
For a small country, the UK has a diverse range of regional accents and that’s something I’ve always found fascinating. It demonstrates the depth of our history; just look at Manchester and Liverpool, two cities only around 30 miles apart, yet their residents possess very distinct accents.
As a native of Middlesbrough, I’ve often been mistaken for a Geordie, yet our accents aren’t the same. The Teesside twang is softer than Geordie, with a Yorkshire edge mixed in.
Dialect raises some interesting questions when it comes to writing, especially in fiction. Some people would argue that grammatically correct Queen’s English should always be used, yet writers like Irvine Welsh have been very successful crafting books in regional dialect.
Language is fluid and the advent of the internet, mobile phones and social networking has changed the way we communicate. We’ve seen words like ‘tweep’ added to the dictionary, the rise of text speak and outrage over the ‘inevitable’ dumbing down of standards.
But language is a beautiful thing and dialect is a huge part of that. If we all spoke the same language, in the same way, using only the same few standardised words, life would be pretty boring.
I love the way that my accent gives me a sense of identity and belonging. Sure, there are times when I choose to play it up or down, if the situation demands it. I wouldn’t turn up to a job interview and show off my best Boro slang.
The world isn’t as small as it used to be; we aren’t as isolated in our own towns. Success or failure shouldn’t be tied to the place you were born, it should be on merit. Accent is no longer an indicator of class, education or intelligence, so why make assumptions based on the way someone talks?
True, some accents are easier on the ear than others; some may be harder to understand. But take the time to listen and you might learn something unique about a place or group of people that you never knew before.
Find out more about Middlesbrough with my So I’m a Smoggie series.