‘This is What Articulate Sounds Like’ was a project that asked people who self-identify as speaking with non-RP accents to talk about their own experiences, and what being articulate means to them. In order to create it, we put out a call for interviewees among our University and city networks, and we were quickly overwhelmed with offers. In the end we interviewed a representative sample, and this video edits together some of what we heard.
Video by Karen Scattergood and Jamie Lepiorz, with additional editing by Andrew Twist.
The project grew out of a conversation with some students on my module ‘Dialect in Film and Literature’. My students had been volunteering on a scheme which aims to help school children to develop their skills at speaking in formal contexts. We discussed the tendency in the popular imagination to equate ‘articulate’ with ‘posh’, and the fact that narrow definitions of ‘being articulate’ can make it difficult for children who speak with regional accents to develop confidence in their own abilities.
At around the same time, I had a conversation with Katie Edwards who had written an article for The Telegraph about her own experiences of working in academia while speaking with a regional accent. What had really chimed with readers, I think, was her personal account of what it feels like to be singled out for the way that you speak. As a researcher I can give a good academic account of the effect of dialect discrimination, but it’s much more effective to hear from someone who has experienced it directly.
It is not my intention to summarise the thoughts of our highly articulate contributors, but I would like to highlight a couple of questions that occurred to me when listening to them. First, I think it is striking the damage that is done when accents are criticised; these people are all highly successful in their respective fields, but many of them have had their confidence badly dented at times by comments about their accents. How many young people are silenced by such attitudes and never find confidence in their voice again? Second, it is worth noting how criticisms of their speech tend to rely on dated and unthinking stereotypes (for example ‘speaking like a fishwife’). We wouldn’t accept these kinds of stereotypes in relation to gender, ethnicity or religion, so why do accept them in relation to accent?