You can take the girl out of the Black Country…
But, despite having lived away for almost 4 years now in 2 of the UK’s most accent-heavy cities outside of Birmingham (hello, Liverpool and Manchester).
…You can’t take the Black Country out of the girl.
Will I ever shake my accent?…
It wasn’t until I took the NY Times Dialect Quiz on Saturday that I realised that my hometown has never left me.
Since going to university and since working on my spoken word pronunciation a lot, I thought I’d shook my accent almost entirely. But apparently, I haven’t. I’d still go as far to say that it’s not as strong as it used to be, but, as I’m reminded by my colleagues almost daily and as I’m reinforced by a scarily-accurate languages test, I’ve come to realise that this isn’t the case.
In fact, after being wholly disappointed that around 95% of my dialects traced back to the Wolverhampton area on the quiz, I decided to answer the additional 75 or so questions to try and prove that my spoken language was broader than the Black Country. What actually happened was that my results ended up even more refined and actually, my red dot grew smaller yet more pronounced.
It was clear to me then that, for better or for worse, my roots ‘ain’t going anywhere.
After being understandably mortified that after almost 4 years of practising speaking properly to try and shake some of the awful colloquialisms I’ve picked up during my childhood, I spent a good 25 minutes or so going through the additional questions.
Hoping for a broader result (or a miracle, I guess). But did I get it?
In fact, much to my dismay, the software just grew more intelligent as it fed-back to me, almost smugly, that yes – you can definitely tell I’m from the Wolverhampton area.
…Do I really need to?
When I started my university course, as I recounted recently, I was pretty gutted to find out that speaking aloud would play a big part. A 50/50 mix of nervousness and knowing I didn’t have ‘the right’ voice for presenting sent me into a state of panic every time I knew I’d have to talk to a crowd. If you read the post though, you’d find out that later, I actually overcame my fears and am finally at a place in my life now where I feel confident in myself and can articulate myself in a way that I can feel proud of – instead of disgusted by. (Sorry, spoilers).
Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ll ever escape the feeling that ‘I don’t have the right voice’ for big talks and public speaking. And who can blame me really? I mean, how often is it that you see a ‘Brummy’ or a ‘Black Countrian’ on the TV? (With the exception of Tommy Shelby, mind).
Most of the big personalities you see every day are from down South, where let’s face it – the accents are viewed as a lot better. Some are from up North, but very few are from the dreaded ‘Midlands’. Perhaps the most iconic presenter who is unapologetic for her inflection, and is in fact a Brummy girl through and through, is Alison Hammond. Unfortunately however, one only has to do a quick search of ‘Alison Hammond accent’ to see why so many West-Midlanders would feel conscious about speaking out and being proud of their vocal heritage.
What doesn’t help also is that, in an actual article by ITV, it was decided that ‘the Birmingham accent’ (which is also bound together with the Black Country accent, and don’t even ask me why I’m not saying ‘Staffordshire’ – because nobody considers that a real place) sounds the least intelligent. Nearly 33% would say that they would consider people with that tone of voice unintelligent – gee, thanks.
Which begs the question then – at some point in my life (probably in the near future) I’m going to be involved in client meetings again, probably presenting, the lot – will I be treated any differently to someone with a much more refined and common accent?
I genuinely don’t have the answer. But from experience, though probably contributing greatly to my anxiousness, I’ve managed important phone calls and gutsy presentations with my Black Country voice echoing loud and proud. I thought I’d managed to becloud it over the years but I’m coming to realise that this has been largely unsuccessful.
However, I don’t really care anyway.
Granted, I still cringe hard whenever I hear my voice on playback – but don’t most people? I think the value lies more in what I say as opposed to how I say it. And though this probably doesn’t ring true for the likes of TV presenting, for example, I highly doubt I’ll find myself on your screens anytime soon anyway. When it comes down to the nitty-gritty of articulating my ideas and talking professionally to clients, I like to think that it’s not my accent that they’re listening to, but my notions instead. So far this has been the case anyway.
In fact, it’s one thing trying to lose your accent but what about honing in on it instead? Flipping the coin, I spoke with Alex who’s a fellow midlander and PR exec too. After revealing the results of my quiz on Twitter over the weekend and openly expressing my abasement, he messaged me to tell me the following. Which I not only found incredibly interesting but enlightening too.
“I was told in my media training to not only keep hold of my accent, but to try and make it stronger because ‘you’ll come across more personable’ which, to an extent I agree with. But sorry, I’m not going to make a conscious effort to make my accent thicker after spending my late teen years and early 20s trying to sound more neutral.”
And though, much like me now, he made a conscientious effort in his early twenties to negate his accent – it was warming to see that professionals would actually encourage you to exaggerate your dialect instead.
(Well, they say we’re full of personality in the Midlands anyway).
So I guess your answer is there. In the end, it’s all superficial and your voice makes you who are just as much as any other part of you. Even if the sound of silence has been ranked of higher appreciation than the way you speak and even if your accent has been officially awarded ‘worst in the country’ (yes, both are true for me), it still makes up your identity and you should never apologise for it.
I don’t think I’ll ever feel fully comfortable with the way I sound, and especially when I’m presenting or speaking in a meeting, but I’ve come to accept that. And I’m certainly not going to shy away from opportunities that’ll help me to expand my career in the fear that ‘I’m going to be the biggest commoner there’.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t expect me to be a recluse – I’m still more than confident to speak where I have a place to, but also – I wouldn’t be looking for me presenting to mass-crowds or on the TV anytime soon.
P.s. – thank you!
You know the score by now, I have a little endnote to post. I’m in a small but brilliant pool of talented and creative writers, and I really do often feel as though I don’t belong here. Therefore, to be in amongst the finalists for the UK blog awards for best PR, Marketing and Comms blog means so much to me… Beyond words.
It’s amazing in fact.
Therefore, I just wanted to say a big… No, a MASSIVE thank you to everyone who voted for me in the awards. If it wasn’t for the people who read my blog and support me every day, I almost certainly wouldn’t bother. So for that, endless gratitude is in order.
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3 thoughts on “I’m A Black Country Girl, Does My Accent Matter?”
Just took the quiz and it knew i was from the midlands!
I have this notion that we should treat people as individuals – not as tribes. (But then I’m in a much more vilified tribe than you. Consider this: I’m not posh, nor am I wealthy. But I’m white, male, middle aged. I was privately educated. I have a Cambridge degree. It’s the one remaining tribe it’s acceptable to attack. No complaints. Let’s move on.)