… they donarff speek funny.
We suverners, wot cum from sarf Lunnon like wot I do, tend to think that northern England starts at Watford, a mere 15 miles (24 kms) beyond the boundaries of London on the other side of the River Thames. Mind you, if London has grown in my nigh on thirty years absence as much as Jakarta has, then it’s all one big blurry conurbation. The only way to realise that you’re in a different part of it would be when you see a football ground.
The blue line encircling the city is the M25 motorway.
The North, which is above the Black Country, the industrial Midlands as was, is different. I used to journey up there on my trusty MZ 250 to visit friends and admire the changing scenery: the Peak District of Cheshire and Derbyshire, the Yorkshire Dales and then head west into Cumbria with its Fells and Lakes.
The people (and their beer) would be different too,. Their way of life would be subtly different from mine, and it was how they spoke which told me that I wasn’t on my stomping ground. I appreciated that.
When I first came to Jakarta and entered staff rooms with fifty or more native speaker English teachers – all qualified in those seemingly long gone days – I could tell by their accents where the Brits came from to within thirty kilometres. We might all have been using the same course books, but it was how we spoke, not the ‘what’, which differentiated us. I could even recognise specific areas of London because it was rare that I met someone who had the right to call me ‘Tel’ rather than Terry, my given name.
During my three years of teacher training I had been given training in what I call my ‘teachers voice’. Presumably I’d started my studies speaking like wot I started this little essay. When I came to Jakarta, some students would say, “I want to speak like you, Terry.” I’d then suggest that they should try listening … and then speak to them melodically with a Welsh accent, boyo, and flatten my vowels and attempt a Birmingham nasal drone.
Listening and observing are the keys to understanding patterns of speech, yet trainee teachers in the UK are being told to lose their accents if they’re from oop norf. A small-scale study by Manchester University is based on interviews with 11 trainee teachers drawn from two northern universities, and 12 trainee teachers drawn from two universities in the south.
Of the northern group of student teachers, all but two were asked by their teacher training mentors to modify their accents, which originated from Manchester, Yorkshire and Liverpool among others. Of the students in the south, who had a range of accents including received pronunciation (RP), Kentish, Irish, estuary and cockney, only four had been advised to modify their accents.
Received pronunciation, sometimes called the Queen’s or BBC’s English, is what I was taught, because that was then: it was ‘establishment. Watching BBC World here in Jakarta, I’m pleased to hear a wide range of accents from the presenters, few of whom speak like wot Joyce Grenfell did.