One night in-between shooting vlogs for Manci Mouth, I was sat having a biscuit break whilst watching France 24, when a piece about ‘glottophobie’ or similarly in English, ‘glottophobia’ came onto the show. Not only is it a great new word for a former Languages’ Student like myself but it was a concept which really struck a chord with me, and I knew I had to write a piece about it.
What Is Glottophobia
Glottophobie is a term which the French are using to describe linguistic discrimination, with a focus on the prejudice against regional accents. The piece on France 24 was prompted by the fact that there’s currently a French MP seeking a ban on glottophobia after a former presidential candidate, Mélenchon mocked a Journalist’s regional French accent. In short, he mimicked the Journalist, then turned to the crowd and asked: “Has anyone got a question in more or less comprehensible French?” Let’s be honest, the fella sounds like an absolute skid mark!
We’ve all heard the French language being called one of the most beautiful in the world but just like in other countries, it’s spoken with other accents, which often invites an array of prejudice. When I heard about the French plans to try and outlaw accent discrimination, I felt like jumping for joy. If somebody is speaking up and fighting it in France, then surely it’s possible to do the same in the UK?
Glottophobia & Me
As a native English speaker with a Northern accent, I’ve had more than my fair share of linguistic discrimination throughout my life, and particularly within my career. When people are prejudice against my accent, it’s often with the undertone that I’m thick or poor because I come from the North. I’ve sat in boardroom situations and had to endure people mocking my accent as a means to imply that I’m stupid. I’ve even missed out on copywriting opportunities for sounding too Northern. I’m sorry, it slipped my mind that nobody Northern has the money to buy what you’re marketing! ( I even reigned it in… didn’t go full on; ‘ey up cock, suck up this belter of a deal’, either!). I’m sure that these companies wouldn’t have dared to treat one of my international colleagues in this way through fear of being sued for xenophobia or racism, but they can turn a blind eye towards discriminating against regional accents. How is this fair? When I’ve spoken to fellow Northerners working down South, they’ve had similar experiences too, so what’s fueling this?
We still just don’t hear enough regional accents being used in the media, and in written form it’s practically alien to read something filled with Northern phrases. I believe that this lack of regional lexicon is one of the main reasons as to why glottophobia is still going strong, and just look at what’s happening to the the few Northern voices which have broken into the mainstream media.
Writing for the Radio Times, BBC Presenter Stephanie McGovern explains that she still receives abuse about her Northern accent. Originally from Middlesbrough, the Business Specialist writes; “I’ve had tweets questioning whether I really did go to university because surely I would have lost my accent if I did; a letter suggesting, very politely, that I get correction therapy; and an email saying I should get back to my council estate and leave the serious work to the clever folk.” All the more disturbingly, she also says that a Senior Manager at the BBC said “I didn’t realise people like you were clever.”
Similarly, in the same boat is Angela Rayner MP who was brought up on a council estate in Stockport, as she still receives abuse about her accent. On one occasion when she was receiving grief about it, Channel 4’s Cathy Newman tweeted; ‘Don’t be fooled by her accent. Whenever I’ve chatted to her she’s always been sharp as a pin and funny too’. Alright, it was quite possibly said with kind intentions but she’s clearly fuelling the discrimination that people with Northern accents are thick. I reckon the tweet also implies that she believes it to be true with the odd exceptions.
For one thing, cockers, if everybody up North is thick, then why are there so many universities? There are more students and university campuses in Manchester than you can shake a stick at. Let me reach for some stats! Research from Top Universities’ Site tells us that; ‘Manchester has one of the largest student populations in Europe, at around 100,000 as of September 2017. 40,000 of whom are studying at its highest-ranked institution, the University of Manchester.’
Just when you thought that the media couldn’t fuel glottophobia any more than they already are doing, step forward a recent article by The Times entitled, ‘BBC’s lavish Les Misérables gives poverty a Northern accent.’ To cast a little insight, the poor BBC producers were left baffled as to how they could portray the heroic lower-class protagonist Jean Valjean’s peasant roots in a recent adaptation of Les Misérables. So, The Times explains that its Director Tom Shankland said; ‘In Britain there are class divisions that we perceive on the basis of accents, so the simplest rule that we found was really to nod towards those rules that we have in our own divided society.’ So in short, he believes that the working-class have a Northern accent.
I am livid in so many ways about this. Firstly, playing up to the UK’s class division in this way can only but fuel it and continue to spread glottophobia like the clap! Secondly, have you heard of a little thing called the ‘Golden Triangle’ up North? No shockingly enough, it’s not a type of pasty. It’s the area noted for lavish houses, home to famous footballers, celebrities, and entrepreneurs… and guess what? Many have a northern accent!
The Fake Accent Kind
Last summer, I listened to Journalist Jenni Murray speak at a literary festival, where she explained that at the beginning of her career, she had to lose her Northern Barnsley accent in order to be taken seriously and get given a job. We’ve all heard the stories that back in the day this was de rigueur, so you couldn’t get a job in the UK media if you had a regional accent. Times have however progressed slightly and we do see more diversity on the TV but there is still a lack of regional representation and strong accents. Just think about it, could you imagine somebody with a strong Northern accent being allowed to present the nationwide news? Breakfast TV? Or a political debate show? Or any highbrow show?! Let’s be honest, they even struggle to get employed on lowbrow TV when it comes to the BBC, if their accent isn’t a watered-down version of its former self! Why should Northerners only be good enough to appear in lowbrow settings, and be the butt of the joke in reality TV shows?
It’s true that broadcasters are starting to realise that they need to better represent the country but debate has yet to focus intensely on regional representation and the classism which surrounds it. We do also see commercial broadcasters giving more opportunities to Northern voices compared to the BBC, but a quick look on social media showcases how many Brits view this content as low culture compared to their good old auntie Beeb’s. I wonder why that might be?! Along with this strive for representation, why are we not also seeing those who are already successful bringing back their accents? Shouldn’t this be especially important for those who work for the BBC and represent the UK as a whole? Would their peers no longer take them seriously? I suspect not, and this is why a change in culture is so important. So, why haven’t you brought your Barnsley accent back Jenni?
UCL reports; ‘Research shows that 28% of the UK population feel that they have been discriminated against due to their regional accent, while 80% of employers admit to this discrimination’. We know that the media is a soft power and influences change within society, and for that reason I believe that this discrimination is largely fuelled and normalised by the lack of regional accents in the media. So we need to be proud of our regional identities, local culture and quirks, and fight for representation to help stop Glottophobia. One of my biggest pet peeves is when somebody in this day and age tries to lose their regional accent to speak like high society, so that they can appear to be “well spoken” and be accepted as a professional or no longer carry any detrimental working class connotations that society connects to their accent. Stand up and fight for who you are!
The concept of being “well-spoken” is in itself discriminatory. To suggest that one accent stemming from one region of the country is correct and that any other accent or dialect isn’t, is wrong. Brits are not just from the Home Counties, they speak in a plethora of accents and dialects with their own differing cultures. Brits are not a monolith. We are not all wholesome or well spoken, and the way in which we view the world differs. To have a media led, staffed and funded by such a small section of British society leads to not only a skewed view of the world but also glottophobia and discrimination.
Pave The Way
From watching my vlogs, you’ll know that I value a great sense of humour and believe that this is entrenched in Northern culture, but there’s a big difference between making a joke about or lightheartedly impersonating accents, and straight up discriminating against them. One of my main driving forces behind the creation of Manci Mouth is my lived experiences of linguistic discrimination… Glottophobia! So, I wanted to create a place where I can speak and write like me… my Northern me. Regional voices rarely appear in international media, and I want to help pave a way for others to share theirs without facing discrimination. It’s time to open up the different faces of UK culture and quirks to the world. We’re more than the stereotypes which are currently being portrayed. So, join me on my Manci Mission!
Well, now that I’ve got that off my chest, loves, I want to hear your glottophobia thoughts. Have you experienced it? Get in my comments and let’s have a natter!
*Featured image via Twitter @redballoondes