Durham and its accents

By Elise Garcon

In a setting of chilly weather and a Greggs on every corner, it can be disconcerting to hear a southern accent in your local Tesco’s. However, here in Durham, the high student population means the local accent is almost drowned out by drawn -ut ‘a’s and fully-pronounced ‘t’s.

An average of 28% of students here are from the Home Counties alone, with Hild Bede and Hatfield the colleges with the highest percentages: 39% and 36% respectively. In a city of Southerners so far North, I interviewed students, with both regional and international accents, to gain an insight into their experiences.

Hana, an international student, described the sense of isolation that can be felt when surrounded with so many others from the same: “people often ask me if I’m American. Usually it doesn’t bother me too much, but it does feel like a barrier is raised.” Accents are one of the first things we notice about people and we are quick to base our assumptions about them on what we hear, whether consciously or not. “One thing that is different here is that the types of accents are much less varied,” Hana also noted, “in my international school, nearly everyone had a different way of speaking.” A jump from somewhere so diverse in accents and heritage, to Durham, which is arguably homogenous, is jarring for many international students, who may feel out of place.

Accents are one of the first things we notice about people

Durham is an anomaly in that only 7.8% of graduates are from the North East, much lower than other surrounding universities, such as Newcastle and Northumbria. Local accents are often linked with the stereotypical view of the area. Beth, a student from Teesside, said, “I think people do assume my class from my accent. They hear it and immediately link me with the presumption that the North East is deprived. It’s mainly from people who believe they’re of a higher class than me.” Jacob, from Liverpool, also mentioned: “I would say people associate my accent with lower- to working-class simply by the fact I don’t sound like I’m from the South.”

Only 7.8% of Durham’s graduates are from the North East

In spite of this, all the students I interviewed stressed the positives of having a regional or international accent. Beth and Jacob both liked the fact that there are still differences in accent in Durham: “I think it would be boring if everyone was the same,” Beth said. The most common, and extremely irritating, reaction that the students face when they speak is having people imitate them. Jacob maintained his confidence in his accent, however: “I don’t think it really bothers me because I see it as one of the things that sets me apart from the crowd.” Although some reactions to regional accents come as assumptions and prejudices, all of the students I spoke to said that the sense of solidarity that comes from being from the same region and having similar experiences was worthwhile.

Image by Patrickatsgull via Pixabay

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