Wow, are we really still bothering with this kind of stuff?

Researchers at Bath Spa University have done a study of regional accents.

Yet another in-depth study into outdated stereotypes and time-warp misconceptions. I thought we’d slowly started to move on from such nonsense, but apparently not.

My criticism is not simply based on the fact that “speaking in a Birmingham accent gives a worse impression than saying nothing at all”.

It doesn’t matter, obviously, plus it patently isn’t true. But it represents the type of non-story that gets picked up far and wide simply because it is easy to dress up and fill a space.

The study of 48 (!) people was apparently designed to investigate stereotypes. Yet, inevitably, the way it is being covered simply helps perpetuate all those misguided myths and ignorant pigeonholes that some need to rely on so heavily.

Dr Lance Workman, who led the research and presented it to the British Psychological Society’s annual meeting in Dublin, does come up with a couple of absolute gems when discussing the study: “Surveys have shown that a lot of people associate Birmingham with criminal activity, and they associate criminal activity with low intelligence. Can I just say that whenever I’ve been to Birmingham I’ve found people to be very bright and friendly.”

The BBC also reports that he “said that his co-researcher on the study was a woman with a Birmingham accent who he regarded as being extremely intelligent”.

You know, some of my closest friends are Brummies.


9 responses »

  1. […] Paul Groves isn’t too hot on the thing either […]

  2. Mikki says:

    There is a certain irony in people from the West Country saying that people from Brum have got accents that make them sound stupid.

    This is not, of course, an opinion based on sound scientific research. It is a blatant regional stereotype based on good old-fashioned mud-slinging.

    If Lance Workman wants to discuss the subtle distinction between the two I’ll be happy to talk about it over a pint of scrumpy.

  3. Paul Groves says:

    Mikki: Yokels vs Brummies, now that is a confrontation I’d like to see and I know who my money would be on.

    It comes to something when a bloody Welshman needs to be the voice of reason and clarity 😉

  4. Ursula says:

    Paul, I knew foreigners come in useful somehow:

    To them (me) the matter is only one of survival, not prejudice. Naturally, give me Oxford’s finest and all goes swimmingly (though I do not like the stuttering – other than when Hugh Grant or Sebastian Flyte does it). I have hung onto the lips of many a regional accent, only desparate to make out what’s being said – feeling stupid myself, rather than judging the other party as to THEIR intelligence. Which reminds me, Paul, what is it with the Welsh and their extravagant use of the letter ‘l’ in one word?

    On a slight detour: I declare my devotion to the Welsh voice. Do I swoon over Richard Burton reading “Under the Milkwood” or what?

    Back to accents: It appears to be a marker in any society. The country where I come from loves regional accents, as long as you can speak the Oxford English equivalent as well. It has more to do with the perception of how well educated you are rather than your actual intelligence.

    The subject is a minefield and, on a personal note, it has cost me dear in many ways, living abroad: It used to sap my confidence when, every time you open your mouth, people you have never met before latch immediately on the oh so original line “So, where do you come from?” only to then place you anywhere between Istanbul, Stockholm, Berlin or Rome,

    So, all you Brummis and people in Newcastle: My heart goes out to you.


  5. Paul Groves says:

    Ursula: Thanks, as ever.
    Clearly the UK is not the only country with different accents and clearly in other countries there are stereotypes attached to various regions. The antagonism I feel towards this story and research is that it doesn’t move this “issue” on in any way, it just seeks to reinforce ridiculous stereotypes. Why do we have this preconceptions and outdated images? That would be a good question to answer and it goes without saying that the media and academia play a big part in fuelling the stereotypical images.

    As for the use of the letter L in the Welsh language – it is not excessive. It helps create the soft, lilting, luscious tones of Mr Burton and the rest of us.

  6. Ursula says:

    Don’t get me wrong, Paul, the world would be a poorer place without any Llewellyns.

    Of course “this story and research” (what research?) does not move the issue along to pastures new. You ask why we still do have preconceptions and outdated images. Because it makes people feel safe, understand the world they grew up in. To rock the boat, any boat, you might just fall overboard, having to survive uncharted, and very cold, waters indeed. Old school journalism – as I understand it – pokes people’s consciousness and, with a bit of luck, makes the reader reflect on an issue and, best case scenario, forces him to decide on his own take on it.

    What annoys me is that so many people are being taken in by so much crap – and I read all four broadsheets every day – if it kills me. Just one example: Statistics are bandied about – on every page – with abandon.

    Yet how many people actually know how statistics work:? Eg, an increase of 20 %: In relationship to what exactly? So many people are frightened witless by numbers, percentages, not realising that they are not given the context. It’s what I call “The rabbit caught in the headlight syndrom”. And we all know what happens to that poor creature.

    Sorry, Paul, if I slightly veered off the original subject.


  7. Paul Groves says:

    Ursula: Please feel free to veer.

  8. Paul Groves says:

    I meant to add to no-one in particular:

    I find so-called Estuary English, as practised by a worrying amount of people on TV and radio, to be the most odious accent in the country.
    Give me a proper, raging, regional accent anyday over that strangulated nonsense.

  9. […] Paul Groves writes about accents – wonder what will they think of Brian Cowen’s accent if he becomes Taoiseach? […]

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