Northern accents are still at a disadvantage

Accent bias remains a major concern for young people in the UK, particularly for those from the North according to a new study.

Research from the Sutton Trust found self-consciousness and anxiety around accent bias are still prevalent among younger generations, with 33% of university students concerned about how the way they speak could affect their ability to succeed in the future.

It comes five years after another study which showed 76% of employers admitted to discriminating against applicants because of their accents. 

Rob Drummond, professor of sociolinguistics at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “We have to change the way people listen, rather than the way people speak. 

“There is no scientific or linguistic reason why someone can sound more competent, friendlier or posher. They’re just sounds that come out of your mouth, it’s nonsensical. Singling out someone’s accent can seem lighthearted and superficial, but not when you’re on the other side. It can mask some really serious prejudices.” 

The report also found that 30% of students reported being mocked, criticised or singled out in educational settings due to their accent, rising to 47% in social settings. 

Jamie Dickinson, a recent graduate from Newcastle, said: “It takes longer for us to be taken seriously, you have to prove yourself more. 

“I didn’t even go to a Russell Group university but there was still that sort of attitude. I’m very Geordie and I would never change that based on my environment, but I felt there was an expectation to. Some of my lecturers often asked me to repeat myself until I had to change my accent to mock them.

“I don’t want to have to hide my accent from anyone.” 

Prejudices based on northern, industrial, working-class accents and minority ethnic groups have often been associated with lower capabilities in workforces. 

Received pronunciation, or ‘Queen’s English’, remains dominant in sectors such as the media, politics, courtrooms and the corporate world. Despite this, the Sutton Trust estimates less than 10% of the population have an RP accent.

Frances McCombe, from Manchester, said: “I don’t think I ever thought I had an accent until I was around people who were constantly mimicking it. 

“When you hear six or seven people doing an exaggerated version of your accent back to you it’s strange. It’s alienating when you feel your own experiences are just a caricature.

“But, I’m always going to be stubborn about it. I’ll never try to tone down my accent or lose it.”

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