Everyone speaks with an accent, even those who think that they don’t. Received Pronunciation (RP) is considered to be the standard accent of standard English even though in 1974 it was estimated that only 3% of the population were RP speakers. If I think about RP, I think of the Queen and aristocrats speaking, enunciating carefully every vowel. At one time, RP was the only English you heard spoken on the BBC but there is now a fashion for regional accents to be heard, although I think it is still rare to hear a soft ‘a’ as in bath the way I say it; it will invariably be ‘ba(r)th’ that is heard.
I love to hear different voices but it is amazing how certain accents carry more prestige and how judgements can be made based on how a person sounds. If I am in conversation with someone who has what I consider a ‘posh’ accent I automatically feel inferior and a bit dim. I also think the posh speaker will perceive me as thick simply because of my soft Lincolnshire vowels. Most of us tend to modulate our accents according to the company we are in at the time. I am conscious that I would speak in a more correct way at a job interview for instance than when having a chat with an old friend. But I would find it difficult to alter my accent regardless of the situation.
What I don’t like is the latest fashion for changing the way one speaks; politicians are the worst culprits here, modifying their accents in order to garner votes has to be one of the most pretentious and insulting tactics of modern politics. It started with Margaret Thatcher who spoke in deeper and slower tones in office than she ever did before; nobody would ever have guessed that, like me, she was a Lincolnshire lass. Tony Blair of course went the other way, he obviously thought his posh Fettes accent would win him no favours with the Labour voters and did a pretty good job of speaking in the vernacular and inserting as many glottal stops as possible. George Osborne has been less successful at this, an old Etonian would never naturally drop his aitches and it sounded utterly false when he tried.
Even the Beckhams are at it; now that they socialise with royalty, they apparently want to forget celebrity Chavdom. Footage of David Beckham ten years ago shows he was far from articulate. He now opens his mouth more, speaks more slowly and one can make sense of what he says. He must have had elocution lessons to carry this off. Peter York, the social commentator thinks that in private Mick Jagger probably talks like David Cameron (when he is with the Queen of course, not talking to the great British public) and clips of him speaking in the 1960s show him speaking beautiful RP. On a recent edition of the One Show however he sounded more like a rough Cockney barrowboy. What does it say about people who adopt these affectations? Clearly they have deeper issues than just their accents.