12 Nov

There has been a lot in the media recently about the West Midlands accent.   From the Birmingham Council’s voice phone recognition software not being able to understand the ‘Brummie accent’, to the West Midlands accent being widely considered a hindrance in business.

My partner is a born and bred dyed in the wool ‘Black Country girl’.  The Black Country accent is considered even stronger than the Birmingham accent and is often a source of amusement and bewilderment for anyone living outside this small piece of middle England.

I have always been fascinated by accents and the effect they can have on people.

I was born in Surrey and grew up in the home counties but both my parents were from the North and though the south softened their accent a little it was still their flat vowels they proudly displayed.

After a year spent living in Holland before starting senior school, the only English voices I heard during that year were my parents, and I started to say “bath” and not “barth”, “laugh” instead of “larf”.

On returning to English shores and starting senior school, I changed my accent right back to those Surrey tones.  One snigger from a fellow pupil was all it took to eradicate any northern tinges I had indadvertently picked up.

So when I met my partner for the first time, I have to admit I was mesmorised.  Dawn had an accent you literally could cut with a knife.  I didn’t really understand half the things she was saying, but I loved how she said it.  The only people I had ever heard speaking like that had been on the legendarily awful but wonderful teatime soap opera Crossroads.  Oh and the ladies in the café at the Motorway service station in Wolverhampton,  that we had deliberately stopped at because mum wanted to hear ‘the accent’.

Dawn seemed quite shy, when it came to talking to anybody else outside of the midlands.   Something I couldn’t understand.  Not long after we had started dating, we were driving through London, long before the days of satellite navigation I did what everybody did in the eighties.  I pulled over to try and get directions from somebody in the street.  As luck would have it there was a bus stop with a healthy queue of people.

Dawn wound the window down and asked if anybody knew how to get to our destination, one by one the line of people waiting for the bus started to titter.  She asked again, and the tittering turned into laughter.  They were laughing at Dawn’s accent.  I drove off and told her not to worry about it, we both laughed at the incident ourselves and it became a point of teasing between us.

Apparently some accents are funny and a broad West Midlands, in particular a Black Country accent is to some people amusing.

Ever since the bus stop incident, Dawn has always got me to; ask for help, information, check-in at hotels, ask for the menu, complain, basically my voice is usually the initial point of contact.  It is not that she feels embarrassed of her accent, no she is proud of it.  This is because she thinks it will just cause more problems and people will not be able to

understand her.

Through living with Dawn and also being somebody who picks up accents very readily myself I have come to realise just how immensely powerful accents can be.  They can shape how people view us, respect us and ultimately form the overall lifelong impression somebody will hold of you for life.

Dawn is highly intelligent and has a psychology degree, I am of course highly intelligent but have never attended university, actually most people think I am the one with the degree.  The accent I am sure is the main reason for this.

We have been in business together now for twenty years and both our accents have come into play.   When dealing with people, Dawn is great at getting a bargain and making people feel at ease if they are nervous, shy or down to earth.  She manages to connect with them and the deal is done.

I actually enjoy turning on a ‘posh voice’ if we are negotiating house clearance or a deal in a traditionally ‘posh’ area.  Somewhere like Sutton Coldfield, I will come into my own and it always seems to work.  You just have to judge your opponent and find your accent, a sort of vocal poker.

Having spent a lot of time in America I noticed how potent an accent can be there too.  Most Americans of course expect only two types of British accent, Mary Poppins or The Queen.  So they are often surprised.

Dawn of course they would equate with Ozzy Osbourne, that is how we always managed to explain her away.  But friends would always sidle up to me after a long dinner or a few drinks and say “I can understand what you are saying but sometimes I haven’t a clue what Dawn is talking about”.

A favourite pastime of mine would be to walk into a very upscale establishment in New York or Los Angeles and ‘lay it on thick’ give them the upper class tones they are expecting and trust me they adore it.  It is after all giving them a show and exactly what they want.

If you think that is bad, my friend from Ireland trowels it on with a big Irish shovel.  I will never forget being lost in Rhode Island with her and she managed to find somebody with a Riverdance T-shirt to ask for directions.  Let’s just say the accent she produced would put a Kerry farmer, mumbling into his pint of Guinness to shame.  By the time she had finished the gentlemen thought he had held court with the Queen of Ireland.

You can come unstuck though, whilst this might work in Manhattan or Beverly Hills.  It can have the opposite effect in a diner in Oklahoma or Kansas, ensuring you become a total spectacle and can’t get back to your car quick enough.  Trust me this has happened, more than once.

Over the years, there has been a vocal war of attrition between Dawn and myself, I have softened her Black Country accent, whilst she has ‘Midlanded’ up mine.  Ensuring that I now sound (unless putting on the glitz), like a posh ‘Brummie’.  Well I suppose there are worse places to come from than Sutton Coldfield.

Sometimes Dawn will call me posh, when she is really angry with me she will call me a Brummie.  I of course will reply with you ‘yam yam’.

We keep talking about one day moving to another part of the UK, Manchester, Liverpool, Devon, Scotland all these places have been mooted.  You know it might be interesting because after a few years we would both have the same accent but different accent.  Now that really would confuse everybody.

It has been said that the Americans and us Brits are separated by the same language, I actually think the same thing could be said for many of us Brits.

So in the words of our Dawn Tara a bit!


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