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When you need to have two accents

IN a bygone age one was expected to speak posh or fall by the wayside, no matter whether your aspirations were careerist or social.

Advice to round out your vowels and drop your regional twang was to be expected.

Now, though, the emphasis is on diversity. Alexander Baratta, an English lecturer at Manchester University's school of education, has discovered another "ism" from which minority groups are to be protected: "accentism".

He believes people make snap judgments based on accents and so many of us modify our voices, leaving us feeling unhappy with ourselves. Mr Barratta's subjects spoke of accent modification as "a clear threat to their sense of self".

Ah-ha. Now I know why I don't know who I am. I started out with a robust Australian accent. Imagine Steve Irwin but a seven-year-old girl, if you will. If you can. Mere weeks at a school in Coatbridge and I had smoothed my vowels and sharpened my consonants into my own approximation of a Scottish accent.

It happened unconsciously but must have been an attempt to fit in with my peers. Sadly, the attempt backfired. With an Australian accent I was a curiosity. Unfortunately, my Scottish accent came out "posh". Posh is no help when camouflaging yourself among Lanarkshire weans.

It is, however, perceived as a bonus in the workplace. Mr Barratta's participants spoke of softening their local accents in order to sound more RP, or received pronunciation, believing it to garner respect.

If a non-regional accent pushes you ahead at work then an RP accent surely must push you back socially; there cannot be any sound more grating than a posh accent.

In fact, it's been reported that those of the cut-glass variety are seeking elocution lessons to scuff the polish on their voices for fear of sounding stuck up. I'd wager if there's any accentism to be had it is a tendency for the regional speakers to think badly of those speaking RP.

Mr Barratta says most people have two accents on the go - one for work and one for play. I keep hundreds on reserve, depending on who I am speaking to. I don't do it on purpose and it is a real struggle to hold on to my own. I'm sure Mr Barratta would have a field day with that one.

Sadly, the only accent I cannot do is Australian. West of Scotland's fine but there would be something comforting, on a cold Glasgow day, about being able to speak with the sounds of eucalyptus and warm Tamarama sands.

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