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YouGov, Accents, and Misleading the Public

An inaccurate map of British AccentsAnd the Ugliest British Accent is…

It’s raging through the British press: the ugliest accents in the UK are Scouse, the whining, whinge from Liverpool and the blocked nasal drone of Brummie from Birmingham!

And then, barely raising a surprised eyebrow, at the top of the scale with the most attractive accent is the soft, gentle lilt of Southern Ireland.

It’s all utter baloney of course but the papers won’t tell you that…

The Questionable Poll

The poll was done by YouGov which is an internet based market research company. They survey people for elections, torture, and other important stuff down to 1D smoking dope, fake orgasms, and the best Bond.

But for this accents poll they gave a woefully small number of select people a woefully restricted number of options to choose from.

the respondents

They asked 2018 adults or about 0.004% of the adult population of the UK.

Most of these were middle-class or above. And most came from London and the south.

They interviewed no one in the East of England and no one in Ireland.

Which means a pathetically small and restricted number of people.

the questions

They only asked the select few respondents to rate about 12 accents which is a woefully small sample considering that almost every town in the country has its own accent and good linguists can narrow that down even further.

But considering they were supposed to be asking about accents in the UK they forgot to include any from Cornwall, the East of England, the majority of the Midlands (except Birmingham) and just one from Scotland.

In fact, their selection of accents was risible when you look at it further.

Take two countries: the Republic of Ireland and Scotland. They are both roughly the same size and with roughly the same population and yet they asked respondents to rate the accent from a single town in Scotland (Glasgow) against the mythical single accent of an entire country next door!

which means?

Which means that based on the woefully restricted selection of accents to choose from and the pathetically small number of participants from a select few areas, we can safely say this poll is complete rubbish as a serious look at accents and perceptions.

A Further Twist

For many people though, the big surprise was the accent which came in at Number 2: RP or Received Pronunciation.

Until I looked into it and understood why this came up and saw how once more YouGov had got this wrong.

For a start I think they mean “Standard English” rather than RP which is barely spoken now.

Second, YouGov seems to think that RP is a regional accent and in their map they have assigned it to London and the counties of South East England. But RP is not a regional accent; it is a social accent belonging to the Middle Class and above.

(This, then, leads me to believe that no linguists were actually involved in this survey.)

But regardless of where it comes from and what it is called, why would the accent of the majority of the British government be seen as attractive?

Maybe because the majority of respondents in the poll were from the South which is closer to Standard English than the other accents?

Maybe because the majority of respondents were middle-class and above and therefore more likely to have an accent closer to Standard English?

As I said at the beginning though, this whole survey is a load of baloney which has been lapped up by a slapdash and mindless press.

Why the Fuss?

Am I taking this too seriously?

Well think about this.

In the UK, one of the major indicators of class is accent and each region has its own accent. There are also often cultural associations with those regions. For example for years comediens have mocked Liverpool as the home of petty crime and unemployed scroungers; meanwhile you only have to think of Southern Ireland and common culture brings to mind gentle green fields and sweet talking Colleens.

So the accents become associated with class and stereotypes, however off-the-mark and imaginary they might be.

Accents are associated with petty thievery, beauty, class, intelligence, stupidity, trustworthiness, promiscuity and so on whilst in reality there are thieves and saints with every accent. Just because someone speaks with a certain accent because they happened to be born in a certain town does not mean they are automatically stupid or clever, attractive or not.

But this poll wants you to believe otherwise. It wants you to foster those prejudices and perpetuate those stereotypes: yes, people who come from Liverpool and unattractive while people from the Republic of Ireland are attractive.

But think a moment…YouGov asking people to rate each other on the basis of where they were born. What’s next?

Well just imagine YouGov showing people different skin colors and asking the public to rate them on attractiveness or trustworthiness and you can see what is happening here.

Useful Links

YouGov Accents – the original article with the itemised Accent Poll Data

Accent, Dialect & Language in English – the meaning of different accetns

Received Pronunciation‏‎ – the accent which isn’t regional

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