Do people need to change their local accents to get on in life? The answer is “yes” according to those advocating a prescriptivist approach to language use who often emphasize that in professional settings and in job interviews local accents and nonstandard English can hold you back.
Local accents seem to be a real obstacle for trainee teachers in the UK according to a recent study conducted by Dr Alex Baratta, a lecturer at the University of Manchester. Baratta interviewed trainee teachers both from the northern and the southern English universities and found that the ones from the north of England were told to modify and tone down their accents in the classroom by their teacher training mentors. He goes to conclude from the data analysed that intolerance towards accents constitutes “the last form of acceptable prejudice” and that a culture of linguistic prejudice is part of the teaching profession in the UK. The study has received much attention from the press and it was reported on in The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Sun. BBC Radio Cumbria featured a segment on the topic in which the host Kevin Fernihough (a dialect speaker himself) talked to William Hanson, an etiquette expert, and Jane Setter, Professor of Phonetics at the University of Reading. You can listen to the entire segment here (00:38:16 – 00:59:40). Surprisingly perhaps, the two guests who respectively represented the prescriptive and the descriptive side of the debate agreed on their views regarding Baratta’s study in stating that regional accents, as long as the speaker’s words are pronounced clearly, should not be banned from the classroom or as Setter puts it “What on Earth does it matter as long as the speaker is clearly spoken, it shouldn’t matter that they have a regional accent”. Any thoughts on the results of the study? Leave your comments below.