Northerners with strong accents are discriminated against, study finds 


Northerners with strong accents are discriminated against and considered ‘less intelligent and less educated’ than their southern counterparts, study finds

  • Team of researchers interviewed more than 300 people over four years for study
  • They found people viewed northerners with strong accents as ‘less educated’
  • Experts said people interviewed were often unaware of their implicit accent bias 

Northerners with strong accents are subjected to ‘profound’ social, economic and educational harm compared to those with southern accents, a study has found.

Researchers at Northumbria University said that those with strong northern accents are seen as ‘less intelligent’ and ‘less educated’ by those in the south.

The team of experts interviewed more than 300 people over a four-year period and found that most people were unaware of their ‘deeply embedded implicit biases’.

Dr Robert McKenzie, who led the project, to the Times that ‘accentism’ is ‘alive and well’ in Britain.

He added: ‘We played northern and southern speech samples to the study participants and asked them to associate positive traits, such as whether they sounded educated, with those voices.

‘People were much more prejudiced when it came to accents from the north of England, for example, believing they sound less intelligent, less ambitious, less educated just from the way they speak.’

Angela Rayner

Jess Phillips

Northerners with strong accents are subjected to ‘profound’ social, economic and education harm compared to those with southern accents, a study has found. Pictured: Labour MPs Angela Rayner (left) and Jess Phillips (right) have both spoken about accent prejudice 

Dr McKenzie said Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured) said he was seen as an outsider because of his accent when he stood for parliament in Fife earlier in his career so accentism works both ways

Dr McKenzie said Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured) said he was seen as an outsider because of his accent when he stood for parliament in Fife earlier in his career so accentism works both ways

The study found that, before being interviewed, people believed they would not judge someone’s intelligence or education based on their accent and were ‘surprised’ to discover they held implicit biases.

The Social Mobility Commission has campaigned for changes to be made to the Equality Act 2010 so that socio-economic background would be a ‘protected characteristic’.

The call came after the commission found that, in a study of 300,000 civil servants, those with the ‘right accent’ would often get the top jobs and had a better chance of climbing the ladder.

Staff who were promoted were likely to have been privileged, have the right accent or ‘received pronunciation’, an emotionally detached and understated manner, and an ‘intellectual approach’ to culture and politics, the study found.

Earlier this year, Angela Rayner hit back at people who she said had ‘criticised her accent and grammar’ during an interview on the radio.

Addressing the Partygate scandal in January, the Deputy Labour Leader tweeted: ‘I’ve been on the media this morning so my accent and grammar are being critiqued.

‘I wasn’t Eton educated, but growing up in Stockport I was taught integrity, honesty and decency. Doesn’t matter how you say it. Boris Johnson is unfit to lead.’

McKenzie pointed to Labour’s Jess Phillips as an example of a politician who experiences accent-ism.

Another, less obvious, political victim was Jacob Rees-Mogg. ‘A long time ago he stood for parliament in Fife, they were obviously testing him out,’ said McKenzie.

‘He said he felt he suffered at the polls because of his accent, that people wouldn’t vote for him because they saw him as an outsider. So it does work both ways.’

Jess Phillips has also spoken about the need for women with accents in politics.

Speaking to Mumsnet, Ms Phillips, Labour MP for Yardley and former leadership contender, said: ‘One of the reasons that I always put myself forward and dare to be brave and keep climbing up is because I think it’s important that others can see a young-ish mom with a regional accent being taken seriously in politics.

‘We need to do much more to make our politics actually accessible to people because even in this contest it sometimes feels like a factory production line that has no bearing on how people in our country live their lives or what they consider to be leadership.’

Dr McKenzie said he supports changes to the Equality Act, and told the Times that Rayner was a ‘great example’ of the culture of accentism.

He said: ‘She realises that criticism of her accent is a way of taking away her message and women in particular are targeted this way.’

He added: ‘This is the prejudice that can dare speak its name. We are not allowed to be biased in terms of gender, we are not allowed to be biased in terms of sexual orientation.

‘You just have to watch an episode of The Simpsons to see the way people from the southern United States are depicted. It is surprising I think that people still get away with it.’

He hopes politicians will come along and support the project and its campaign to have accents made a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.

‘Just as people shouldn’t hold gender biases or biases against fat or thin people, we shouldn’t have biases against accents,’ said McKenzie.

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