Smoothing the rough edges
December 9, 2008
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I spent a few days back in Yorkshire last week. Frickin' freezing, but the weirdest thing was being surrounded again by Yorkshire accents. Everywhere. On all sides. It's an obvious thing, the Yorkshire accents in Yorkshire, but it's been two years since I was last there and it freaked me right out.
I imagine this is something that's common to everyone who moves to London from the provinces, but we tend to lose our accents pretty damn quick. For me it started at university – being fed one's voice through headphones in the radio studio, hearing the flattened vowels and having to swallow the horror live on air will do that to a person. And I never had a particularly strong accent. Being aurally assaulted by it on the streets of York was cringemaking.
And the thing is, when we lose our accents, we seem to end up with the same one. I've been having a bit of a History Boys weekend (which I blame on James Corden dragging Andrew Knott and Samuel Barnett onto Cookalong to do nothing much but sit there and look pretty. Which they admittedly managed rather well…) and on the DVD extras couldn't help but be struck by Jamie Parker's real voice. (Frustratingly it's the only video clip in the world that isn't online so you'll have to take my word for it.) Jamie Parker's from Middlesbrough, shows an affinity with the Yorkshire accent that none of the other History Boys managed so well – even Sam Barnett, who comes from bloody Whitby – and yet, in reality, his accent is ironed out with nicely lengthened vowel sounds with the smallest touch of underlying Northerness. Someone from, maybe, Cornwall, wouldn't spot it but I know what I'm listening for.
Because it's almost exactly what has happened to mine.
On a couple of recent occasions I've called my parents and just said "Hello", rather than "Hello Mum" or announced my name. And my mother hasn't recognised my voice; she's thought I was someone else. She's taken to calling it my 'posh voice'. I interchange 'grarse' with 'grass' and 'clarse' with 'class' (but still always 'sconn' not 'scohne'). There are still enough Yorkshire elements for someone from that part of the world to identify me, but it's difficult enough to make them triumphant when they get it right.
Is it a sloughing off of a heritage we don't want or a desire to fit into new surroundings? Are we ashamed of how our accents brand us or are we trying to make nice, blend into the linguistic background the same way we did in our hometowns? I suspect it's more likely a natural wearing away of learned ways of pronunciation when you're no longer in the same environment. Whatever. It's still weird how we nu-Londoners are turning into a homogenous-speaking mass.