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English Language & Linguistics

English Language



Accent prejudices

An article by Peter Corrigan in The Observer confronts our attitudes towards local accents by looking at Phil Tufnell, an England cricketer.
Corrigan points out that Tufnell's accent doesn't meet our expectations of an England cricketer, although it is perfectly normal for a Londoner.
The journalist uses phrases such as:

"exaggerated Cockney",

"Why ... does the accent grate?"

This choice of language suggests that it is a painful experience to hear this accent, that it jars, that it is almost distasteful.

"The immediate reaction on hearing Tufnell speak was generally one of surprise, and it is a shock to realise that, in these supposedly enlightened days, our perception of what we expect our various sports stars to arrive from is so fixed."

This is clearly a social prejudice, with a snobbish attitude towards a speaker who carries an accent as a badge of their social class.

In the next paragraph the writer describes other local accents using personal value judgements.
Do you agree with the adjectives used to describe the accents?

"It could be that what helps to give Tufnell's vocal delivery its arresting quality is that it comes from London. Cricket is well used to the accents of its strongholds either side of the Penines, as well as the unmistakable music of the Midlands and the slow drawl of the rustic counties, but I can't recall a Cockney cricketer clamouring for so much attention previously."

• What are the social prejudices about accents which are evident here?
• Look carefully at the language used to describe speakers who use regional accents
• What evidence is there that speakers using a given accent conform to stereotypes?