Tha's a rummun ent it: Why does the East Anglian accent get overlooked?

Professor Peter Trudgill in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

Professor Peter Trudgill in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant

As a resurfaced survey of the British Isles' favourite accents ignores East Anglia, DONNA-LOUISE BISHOP considers whether we should worry

While Brummies have been commiserating and the Irish have been celebrating, the folk of East Anglia have been left feeling hoolly raw.

There has been much discussion online in recent days after a survey rating the attractiveness of accents from the British Isles resurfaced. Birmingham's was rated the least attractive, with the Republic of Ireland's the most.

But the East Anglian accent was conspicuous by its absence, having been entirely ignored by pollsters YouGov, who originally carried out the research in 2014.

The firm highlighted the findings on its Twitter feed this week, where East Anglia's absence raised some eyebrows.

But professor Peter Trudgill, a local linguistics expert and president of the group Friends of Norfolk Dialect (Fond), said the region should be grateful it was not featured, and dismissed the poll as a load of ol' squit.


On the set of The Dig, from left, director of photography Mike Eley, Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown and director Simon Stone. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

He said surveys such as this one can lead to linguistic prejudice and discrimination, known as linguicism. 

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"I think it’s not a very nice thing to do to ask people to evaluate how nice accents are," he said.

“We’re trying to eradicate racism and sexism but people still feel it's quite okay to go around judging people by the way they talk. It’s linguicism. I think the whole exercise is rather evil and misconceived.” 

Linguicism is a form of prejudice where individuals or groups hold implicit biases about other people based on the way they speak. 

Professor Trudgill also analysed how different generations of people can associate different connotations with certain accents. 


Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

“Accents aren’t inherently attractive or nice or beautiful or ugly, they just are. It is often the association that people have with those accents which can form an opinion. 

“This was a foolish exercise so I’m quite glad that we weren’t taken part in it. 

“Accents are all good, they’re all nice, and they’re all attractive, and we shouldn’t encourage people to think otherwise.” 

Britain is highly peculiar in its linguistic variation. The East Anglian dialect encompasses a number of different accents and is not entirely homogenous across the county.

It has become blended across county borders, becoming less widely and purely spoken than in its heyday, in particular Broad Norfolk. 

Allan Smethurst - the Singing Postman. Edp file pic form 1975.

Allan Smethurst - the Singing Postman. Edp file pic form 1975.

The East Anglian accent does not have as high a national profile as some other regional variations.

Sixties pop star Allan Smethurst - the Singing Postman - is one of the handful of local personalities who became national figures known for their Norfolk accents.

The folk singer and postman was best known for his self-penned novelty song, "Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?", which earned him an Ivor Novello Award in 1966.

However, recent media attention on the Norfolk and Suffolk dialect has grown, in connection with productions such as the Swaffham-set television series Kingdom, featuring Stephen Fry, and the Netflix film, The Dig, based on the real-life history of Sutton Hoo. 

Stephen Fry Picture: Matthew Usher.

Stephen Fry Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Archant

While Kingdom received a backlash over its portrayal of the Norfolk accent, The Dig actor Ralph Fiennes was praised for his depiction of the Suffolk dialect which he had spent months perfecting. 

“Norfolk and Suffolk, we belong together in terms of accent,” Professor Trudgill added. 

“Fiennes did a good job and the scriptwriter did a good job and that was very pleasing. Because we are so below the radar, actors so often don’t bother but he bothered. Sometimes they don’t even try and sound like us and that’s because, well, they don’t know we exist. 

“Fiennes was well trained and went round Suffolk pubs and talked to people and got into the swing of it. And that was very well done and welcoming.” 

The accents survey was first published on YouGov’s website in December 2014 and was recently reshared via the international research and analytics group’s social media platform. The 12 accents chosen were picked by using the free online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, to carry out a “quick analysis” of English dialects.  

ITV's Kingdom filming at King's Lynn Magistrates Court for the thrid series. Pic shows Stephen Fry o

ITV's Kingdom filming at King's Lynn Magistrates Court for the thrid series. Pic shows Stephen Fry on set.PHOTO; Matthew Usher - Credit: Matthew Usher

Professor Peter Trudgill is the author of the recently published East Anglian English. He is also an honorary professor of sociolinguistic at the University of East Anglia and emeritus professor of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. 

YouGov's results...

Pollsters asked people to say whether they thought accents were attractive of unattractive. These are the net scores:

Southern Irish: 42

Received Pronunciation: 31

Welsh: 20

Yorkshire: 15

West Country: 13

Geordie: 10

Northern Irish: 5

Glaswegian: -29

Cockney: -30

Mancunian: -31

Scouse: -33

Brummie: -53

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