Opinion: Why my father had to hide his Norfolk accent to get on - have you been held back by the way you talk?

John Trudgill John Trudgill

Peter Trudgill
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
1:11 PM

The Norwich 20 Group is 70 years old this year. Their anniversary exhibition, “The story of a unique group of artists in Norfolk”, is being hosted by The Bridewell Museum from March 18 to May 24.

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Burnham Overy Staithe, a painting by John Trudgill, one of the founder members of the Norwich 20 GroupBurnham Overy Staithe, a painting by John Trudgill, one of the founder members of the Norwich 20 Group

The original Twenty Group were a collection of radical, forward-looking local artists who, in the last months of the Second World War, got together to promote better understanding of contemporary art and to counter widespread hostility and prejudice against it. My father was one of the original members. He moved, we can say, in distinguished artistic circles.

He also came to move in elevated business circles, as the manager of Jarrold’s Publication department, and mixed with all sorts of nationally-known figures.

But he’d grown up in a working-class family and originally spoken with a real Norwich accent, as his parents did all their lives. He didn’t speak like that in later life, though – you could tell he came from Norwich, but he’d modified his accent considerably.

That modification came at a cost. Dad knew that some people in business circles would look down on him if he spoke in the way that came most naturally to a young man from a terraced house in New Catton, and that opportunities might be denied to him.

So throughout his adult life, on important and formal occasions, he suffered the anxiety that goes with having to think, not only about what you’re saying, but about how you’re pronouncing it.

No one should have to do that. No one should have to feel, because of the bigotry of others, that they can make progress in life only if they abandon their native dialect.

We’re doing our best to stamp out the scourge of sexism – we don’t tell women it’s their fault if they’re discriminated against. Equally, if people with truly local accents are dismissed as not being worthy, we shouldn’t say it’s their fault, but do our best to stamp out this linguicism – which is even now often overtly and shamelessly expressed.

People are at their most relaxed and articulate and expressive when they’re speaking in their own natural accent. In creating his paintings, Dad felt free to express himself as he wished, in spite of the prejudice that existed against modern art in the 1940s. It’s a pity he couldn’t do the same when he was speaking.

At the Bridewell exhibition, I shall have two reasons for thinking about combatting prejudice.

Have you had an experience where your accent has held you back? Tell us in the comment section below.

Read Peter Trudgill’s column in the EDP every Monday.

6 comments

  • Well, Peter will know that many of us are "bilingual" -Norfolk at home,when with Norfolk friends and when we talk to ourselves-and we try to make a decent shift at RP otherwise. Schools have been bashing Norfolk out of us for years-and employers. My grandmother had a lovely Norfolk accent but tried to speak " properly" because it was expected when girls were in service Thank goodness for the grandfather's and uncles and their dialect. My high school made quite an effort to make us speak correctly. We even had elocution lessons in Form II. Swan swam over the sea.. ( not oover dears) and individual mistresses would tut at dialect and accent. And of course there is the " I can't read I can't write I can drive a tractor" attitude of incomers so that our children stifle their accents and slip into estuary or mediaspeak-one of the reasons few children are broad these days. Seems only Scottish and Welsh and RP are acceptable to the tv stations.CBeebies is top heavy with Scottish and even Rastafarian.To cap it all we are losing the bits of dialect associated with rural life because few live it anymore. Even the EDP is guilty, with their patronising articles about how we speak, as if we are curiosities. I am tending to stay more Norfolk these days, as a sort of statement!

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    Daisy Roots

    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

  • There was a little Norfolk boy on local tv recently. He was describing how he was learning about similies in his English lessons. He said something like "I thought I'd hatta slip a foo a'them into my work. ". I could have eaten him he was so interesting and just so Norfolk. I don't hear too many local youngsters talking in broad Norfolk though.

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    samphirelover

    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

  • I am 59 and when I came to live in Norfolk in 1986 my Londonhome counties accent was ridiculed by many locals. I've never had an issue with regional accents and quite enjoy hearing them. I have known people older than me who have achieved quite high public positions, in spite of the teasing they received because of the their accents. So the question is.. why does anyone worry about it? I didn'tstill don't and have enjoyed all of my 28 years here and have many local friends and acquaintances who still make fun of my accent. (Of course, there is some retaliation!)

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    Labratone

    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

  • Tell you what, Jimmy Carr Russell Howard and co are " first against the wall when the revolution comes."

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    Daisy Roots

    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

  • I am deeply saddened when I hear how others are judged by their accents. We should be applauding their rich variety not condemning or making judgements. Someone I know made a comment recently that they would remove their children from a school which shall remain nameless if their children started speaking with a 'regional accent.' As a person born and bred in Norfolk I find this kind of ignorance deeply offensive.

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    pickles43

    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

  • Sadley regional accents are fast disapearing, if you walk around and listen to people you hear more london accents than norfolk and if you go to london the east end accent has all but gone or changed to an afro or caribian accent.

    Report this comment

    gerry mitson

    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site



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