This week we have an extra Lockdown Learning post from Judith Hamilton, a Senior Lecturer in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at the University of Wolverhampton and Olivia Boddy, a current second year student studying Linguistics. Catch up with the full Lockdown Learning series here.

It is not surprising that students studying English Language and Linguistics at university relish the chance to explore the language they speak and hear around them, and this is particularly true of a dialect with such a rich history and strong sense of identity as that of the Black Country. While there has been some research conducted on the Black Country dialect, it remains relatively under-researched compared to other accents of the UK.

Research on the Birmingham accent – which might sound indistinguishable from the Black Country accent to uneducated ears – has tended to reveal that people perceive it negatively. For example, John Dixon, Beatrice Mahoney and Roger Cocks found that, in an experimental situation, criminal suspects with a Birmingham accent were rated as significantly more guilty than those with a more standard accent. Other research suggests people with a Birmingham accent are rated as being less intelligent that those with, say, a Yorkshire accent.

These studies encouraged Olivia, a student at the University of Wolverhampton, to explore how people perceived her own Black Country accent and dialect, and while the results of her small-scale study are far from definitive, they make, nevertheless, for interesting reading. Here is a summary of her findings:

As someone who has lived in the Black Country all of her life and has witnessed firsthand the stigma attached to the accent and dialect, I wanted to conduct my own research towards the attitudes and perceptions that people have towards Black Country speakers. I focused specifically on whether people perceived speakers of the Black Country accent and dialect to be trustworthy and educated. I conducted my research as a way to hopefully gain some insight into how many people have negative perceptions of the accent. I asked a range of people with different ages and different backgrounds, most of the participants living outside of the Black Country, to participant in a small questionnaire. Overall, I had 70 respondents which is a number I did not expect to obtain. My findings were not what I expected. I found that 71% of participants felt that the speakers of the Black Country accent and dialect were uneducated, whereas only 30% felt that the speakers of the accent were untrustworthy. As part of my survey, I also asked all the participants whether they felt any pride towards their accent, as this is something that I struggle with. I was surprised to find that 80% of participants felt they had pride towards their regional accent.

We would need to conduct more wide scale and in-depth research to find out if it’s really the case that the Black Country accent is perceived to be trustworthy, but uneducated, but if you are interested in studying more about language and accents, then you can find information about the University of Wolverhampton’s English Language and Linguistics course here.

References:

Dixon, J. A., Mahoney, B., & Cocks, R. (2002). Accents of Guilt?: Effects of Regional Accent, Race, and Crime Type on Attributions of Guilt. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 21(2), 162–168. https://doi.org/10.1177/02627X02021002004

Hurst, B. (2015) Silence is golden? Brummies would do better if they didn’t speak at all, says scientist, Birmingham Live. Available at: https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/birmingham-accent-worse-silence-scientists-9667622

You can find more information about accents and people’s attitudes to them by looking at the links below:

Asprey, E.C (2007). Black Country English and Black Country Identity. [online] [cited 2/3/2020]. Available from https://www.academia.edu/7604067/Black_Country_English_and_Black_Country_Identity

AccentbiasBritain

The Accentism Project