Survey Variable: Self-Perceived Accent

Given that it can be a prominent indicator of one’s background, the Privilege and Participation survey asked people about their accents. Specifically, it asked them whether they think that they have a regional accent and then, whether they answered yes or no, to write in how they would describe their accent. The written answers were manually coded, and the results can be seen in Figure 1 (above, using weighted data).[1] More than half of people (56.5%) think of themselves as having a regional accent (panel A), leaving more than two fifths (43.5%) who think that they do not. When asked what their accent is (panel B), one fifth (19.4%, a plurality) give answers relating to Northern England and a further one in eight (13.3%) give answers relating to Southern England. A similar (one in eight, 12.1%) say that they have an average or normal accent, whilst one in ten (9.7%) give answers relating to London. None of the other categories includes more than one in thirteen people but, collectively, more than six in ten people (62.4%) give an answer that relates to a region or other geographical location within the United Kingdom.

One in seventeen people (6.0%) indicate that they speak with received pronunciation or something similar and, relatedly, slightly more than one in forty people (2.6%) describe their accent in terms of class. We can also assume that the people who describe themselves as having an average or normal accent, or generic English or British (4.8%) ones, do not think of themselves as having a strong regional accent. Nevertheless, there are both geography-based and class-based implications of such accents that people may pick up on when they hear them. The accents that people have are, however, not always simple and they may reflect multiple influences in their lives. Indeed, one in six people (17.4%) qualify the accent that they say they have (panel C) for instance by saying that their accent is ‘soft’ or that their accent reflects growing up in one place and living in another. Nevertheless, this leaves more than four fifths (82.6%) who give a simple or clear-cut answer about their accent and we can suppose that their accents would be relatively easy for others to discern.

CategoryExample Answers
Norther EnglishManchester, Mancunian, Liverpool,
Scouse, Newcastle, Geordie, Northern
MidlandsBirmingham, Brummie, Black Country,
Derby, Leicester, West or East Midlands
Southern EnglishEssex, Kent, Hampshire, Norfolk, Bristol,
Somerset, Home Counties, Southern
LondonLondon (including North and South),
East End, Cockney
WelshWelsh (including North and South)
ScottishGlasgow, Edinburgh, Lowland,
Highland, Scottish
Other geographicalFenland, Rural, Northern Irish
English or BritishEnglish, British
InternationalAfrican, American, Asian, Canadian,
European, French, Indian, Italian,
Latin, Foreign, International
Average or normalAverage, normal, neutral, middle of the
road, no category, not pronounced,
standard, down to earth, inconspicuous
Received pronunciationReceived pronunciation, RP,
Queen’s English, BBC
Class-basedCommon, Middle Class, Working Class
Other categorisationBadly spoken, mild, distinct, awful,
strong, understandable
Mixed categorisatonMixed up, mixture, hybrid, combination
No accentNone, no accent, non-specific, nothing
in particular, don’t really have one
Details of categories of self-perceived accent and examples of answers.

[1] See also Table A1.

Published by joegreenwoodhau

Joe Greenwood-Hau is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Government & Public Policy at the University of Strathclyde, where he works on the Capital, Privilege and Political Participation in Britain and Beyond project.

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