It’s what we say that matters, not our accent

PUBLISHED: 07:38 02 March 2018

Steph McGovern: The BBC presenter feels that her Middlesbrough accent has put her at a career disadvantage compared to 'posher' presenters. Picture: BBC/ Scott Kershaw

Steph McGovern: The BBC presenter feels that her Middlesbrough accent has put her at a career disadvantage compared to 'posher' presenters. Picture: BBC/ Scott Kershaw

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Maybe attitudes to regional accents are changing, says Nick Conrad

So BBC presenter Steph McGovern thinks her endearing accent has harmed her career. Her gripe is based on her pay packet, which she feels would have been higher if she was posh. Okay, Steph feels hard done by but I’m not so sure. I believe the way she speaks is a great attribute. I suspect it’s one of the major reasons she has rightfully ascended through the BBC ranks so swiftly.

For those who don’t know Miss McGovern, her delivery of austere financial news with a warm Middlesbrough accent has garnered many fans. A refreshing break from middle-aged men in suits.

But in a culture obsessed with class, this is a reoccurring debate. Lincolnshire lass Margaret Thatcher worked hard to eradicate her accent. Cherie Blair was rumoured to have engaged the services of a vocal coach to scrub out her nasal tone. Steph McGovern is just the latest in a line of notable individuals who feel that their accent affects their status, influence or ability to make money.

So do we subconsciously discriminate against those with regional accents? I do not entirely agree with Steph. In fact, many ‘posh’ broadcast correspondents claim they’re overlooked as they’re perceived to lack the ‘common touch’. It’s just as offensive to write someone off as sounding ‘hoity-toity’ as it is to say someone is ‘common as muck.’ All broadcasters are desperately trying to stay relevant in a competitive media world. Even news is now conversational, and this does suit Steph’s style.

Those who are lucky enough to possess our beautiful Norfolk twang have long complained of being pigeonholed. Slow, dim-witted (and worse) are the unimaginative jibes thrown at Norfolkians. Such crass judgement derived just from the way someone speaks.

Over the course of my lifetime attitudes to accents have changed. I’m sure many of us, maybe subconsciously, judged others due to their style of speech. Many of these prejudices are hard to shift.

Mancunian, Liverpudlian and Brummie might find it harder to shake stereotypes than those originating from more affluent areas. That said, ‘working-class’ accents are seen as less threatening and more honest.

I like to think that working around the UK and my experience of friendship with people from a wide range of backgrounds has led to me abandoning these prejudices. But we are all human, we all judge. Callers to my radio show occasionally throw me. Someone you’ve written off as incoherent or illogical surprises you by rounding on a dazzling conclusion.

We are seeing a change and Steph McGovern is part of this. We are diversifying, we’re moving away from the idea of there being a ‘proper’ way to speak. Language evolves and morphs and so does its delivery.

No accent is linguistically superior to any other. It’s not how you say it - it’s what you say. I think Steph McGovern’s accent is one of the many reasons she has progressed quickly through the BBC.

In short, little can be deduced from how someone speaks. It is what they say that’s relevant.

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