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They seem to be making this a bit complicated

Scientists at University College London, working in conjunction with colleagues at Yale University in the United States, succeeded in identifying important changes in the part of the brain that deals with speech and language.
Increases in activity in the left frontal lobe, are thought to have developed in order to help humans identify and overcome bias and prejudice when communicating.
It means that people with strong regional or working class accents have a tendency to speak more correctly when in mixed company, while members of the upper classes are more likely to tone down their accents when talking to those from a different background.

The oiks are poshing up and the nobs are poshing down their accents. Which perhaps could be more easily explained by both moving closer to a common language. You know, the point of language being to communicate?

And whatever we call it, RP, BBC or just middle class English does have that merit of being the most widely understandable variation of the language. As someone who has spent much of adult life speaking in calm and clear tones, in English, to Johnny Foreigner, I would insist this is true in fact. I sound a little archaic in English English these days as I’ve not kept up with the last 30 years changes in pronunciation etc. But it’s not uncommon for one or other J. Foreigner to ask why they can understand me in English and not all those other people from the same place. Further, I’ve been asked a few times why can they understand me when I speak to them but not when I speak to my other half, or some English friend?

Because, you know, I’m not doing that code-switching thing maybe?

Perfectly happy with the idea that those mental changes take place as we do the switch, even that the need to do so often enough corresponds with class differences. But balk at the idea that it is because of class that it is done.

15 thoughts on “They seem to be making this a bit complicated”

  1. Bloke in North Dorset

    Mrs BiND said that I did the same when talking to foreign colleagues and clients, even the ones who spoke very good English.

    It’s not just about speaking slowly and clearly, its also about dropping idioms and slang.

  2. Surely, it depends why you’re talking. If you’re trying to get across information, you’re gong to be more successful at doing so if you speak clearly & with well pronounces english where you separate the words rather than elide one into another. (Elision’s one of the things makes french so bloody hard to understand.) I spent years operating in Central London where half the people I dealt with don’t have english as a first language. It may be more wealth related than class related. You’re going to make a lot more money if people understand what you’re selling them.

  3. Unfortunately you need to speak American English to be understood around the globe. An English accent is quite hard to follow for people not familiar with it.

  4. allthegoodnamesaretaken

    This ‘intersectionality’ thing has quite passed you by Tim 🙂

    Everything is race, class or gender in academia these days.

  5. This reminded me of attempts by a bunch of us from Hull trying to order a Coke in a hotel bar in the South West, Burnham On Sea to be precise. In a Hull accent the word coke sounds more like Kirk. Their pronunciation sounded more like cowk. After describing it as a brown fizzy drink that comes in a red can or a specially shaped bottle we got our coke. The barmaid then asked us if we wanted arse in it.

  6. @AndyF
    Because generally Americans speak much better english than Brits. Most Brits speak shit english.
    Here, I find it much easier in spanish with S.Americans. They speak better spanish. Easiest is my colombiana pal. She’s from Aguaclara, Valle de Cuaca. The poorest barrio from a hick town out in the boonies. Look at in Streetview. They don’t have cars. Motos or horse ‘n cart. She speaks perfect castellano. And writes it. The andalus, here, I get about one word in ten. And most are functionally illiterate. I write better spanish than they do.

  7. As a North Country lad, not sure about the brain region causing me to switch, but definitely certain my diminutive but quite fearsome at times grandma ‘Learn to speak properly’ and correcting me at times had something to do with it.

    In fact it was a general understanding where I grew up, that if you wanted to ‘get on’ you needed to be able to speak properly as well as the local dialect. I spoke two versions of English as a child – possibly three if you count how we spoke to each other out playing.

    So social conditioning causing brain change perhaps?

    I don’t think the brain can explain Tony Blair’s glottal stop, Estuary English variety – no brain.

  8. ” Most Brits speak shit english”

    I really do mean that. These days I hardly ever hear the language. At home I get spanish with added brasilian portuguese. Pretty well the only english I use is here in these comments. Occasionally I’ll meet some Brit holidaymaker from Oop North or somewhere & they’ll be prattling away… It’s like a foreign language to me. I understand virtually none of it. I just smile & suffer. The content’s hardly going to be worth the effort of trying.

  9. I haven’t really lost my Northern accent after nearly 50 years in sleepy East Anglia. In fact I was a bit shocked to hear myself speaking at my daughter’s wedding a few years ago. When I used to go back to Lancashire I did notice my accent got noticeably broader in speaking to people there. I don’t think my accent has been a handicap, probably because I don’t interact much with people for whom this stuff is important, and I don’t really give a shit about what they might think of me.

    I did think about diction & language when I was collaborating with many Europeans back in the day, and I don’t remember having much of a problem being understood. I have found it useful to use USian words & idioms of speech in the US though.

  10. BIS, Spanish is like English, used from the tropics to the cold snowy mountains of the Andes, from whites to blacks, and all the shades in-between.

    Your blankets statement …I find it much easier in Spanish with S.Americans…is evident that you haven’t met up with Chileans.

    What Australians do to English, is what Chileans do the Spanish, a totally different language.

    And in Brazil they use sub-titles whenever they have somebody from Bahia on the news.

  11. It is just tuning up or down to common language; some people are naturally better than others at switching as occasion demands. Few people spend their entire life in one village these days, besides there is the influence of tv/radio etc. On the other hand more mixing increases the utility of being able to attune to the local variation.

  12. @jollygreenman
    I have a chilena friend. No problem with her spanish. And I’ve lived with a bahiana. Problem with bahianas isn’t the language, it’s the volume. They only have two settings. Off & full with extra bass. Why she needed to phone home to Salvador I never understood. Just open the window & shout, they’d hear her. Although there might be yachts in mid-Atlantic take a pounding as it went past.

  13. In Scotland speaking the Queen’s English is often called using your telephone voice. Talking posh so random people can understand you on the phone. I remember once ordering at a bar with an English friend who found it hilarious that I struggled to understand the barmaid, who was from a different part of Scotland!

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