Monday, March 27, 2006

Caribbean accent upsets Middle England

Just when you thought it was only regional accents like Brummie and Scouse that caused consternation for RP-speaking Middle Englanders, comes shocking news that Caribbean ones are unsettling too!

In a story in yesterday's Observer - and in various postings on a BBC message board - the true feelings of various Radio 4 listeners about presenter Neil Nunes' Jamaican accent are made clear. One listener comments, "BBC does stand for BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation, doesn't it? Do we really have to listen to this American drawl every time we hear an announcement?".

Perhaps this listener should take geography lessons - last time I looked, Jamaica was in the West Indies, not the USA.
Others have been quick to defend Nunes' accent, variously describing it as "refreshing" and "mellifluous".

So what is it about accents that makes us react so strongly? A casual listen to the adverts on any commercial radio station should let us know that certain regional and national accents are often associated with particular character traits. If you want wholesome and natural (like when selling wholemeal bread or organic vegetables) you employ a Yorkshire accent; if you want slightly dozy or slow-witted characters, you employ a Brummie or Black Country accent. Likewise, streetwise and slightly dodgy can be created through Scouse or Cockney, and rural trustworthiness, if a little dim, can be conveyed by Devon or Norfolk accents. And let's not forget those trustworthy financial adverts which seem to rely on the stereotypes of Scottish people being mean and stingy (and presumably therefore, good at looking after our cash for us).

Occasionally, you'll get a national accent used too: German accents are often used to convey stereotyped notions of discipline and organisation, French to convey sophistication and culture, Australian accents to convey mateyness and the common touch, Caribbean to signify laid back vibes, err, man. Lilt - it's the totally tropical taste, innit?

Of course, these are all bizarre and sweeping generalisations about people's characters based on their regional or national accents, but ones that appear to have some currency in the world of advertising...and beyond. Howard Giles' matched guise experiment (more available here about this line of research) tested people's responses to regional accents and found differing reactions to perceived qualities such as honesty and warmth, based on the accent used to deliver the same message, rather than the message itself.

You can read more about studies of accent (and dialect) in forthcoming E Magazine and E Magazine Extra articles written by ex-SFX students Charissa King & Anjuli Rogers, and myself, but there are also posts on here from last year which look at attitudes to accent. Try searching for "accent" as a key word in the search bar at the top of this page for some of these.

And just to round this off, if you've ever wanted to put a face to the voice that keeps you on hold when you phone up to pay bills, get help for your dodgy broadband connection, or whatever, have a look at this article in today's Guardian, and find out why having a regional accent makes you a "real person". Hmm....

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties and Change

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nunes' voice is a fucking pain in my ear, I like listening to the BBC but I have to turn off the radio EVERY TIME his voice comes on it's absolutely hideous. It's directly the opposite of what a radio voice should be, unobtrusive, easy on the ear, and not FUCKING UNBELIEVABLY ANNOYING! Thing is, I quite like the Jamaican accent, it is said that he's Jamaican but he just sounds like a retard. Bring a proper Jamaican voice I say.