During first year, many of us will encounter people from all over the country, even some from different parts of the globe. And on that very first day when you move in, full of excitement and nerves, there’s one thing that seems to define us all: our voice. People making assumptions about one another just by the sound of their voice.
It may seem like a childish thing, and we may deny that we do it, but at one point or another, we are all guilty of presuming someone’s background just by their voice. Day by day, we gradually break down the stereotypes that seem to typecast us just by the sound of our voices. My friendship group from halls is made up of people from all over the country, with some accents being more evident than others. This includes two hailing from the deep valleys of Somerset, a few of us breaking out of the Home Counties, someone from the Midlands, and even one coming from the East End of London. Whilst there are plenty more of us, these are the voices that seem to contrast most prominently with one another.
Admittedly, the stereotype that comes with my accent is, in my opinion, a rather derogatory one. Coming from a small village in the heart of Surrey can ring alarm bells. The ‘private-school girl’ image that can be obvious once you hear where someone lives. However, something we quickly learn is that what a person is really like does not depend on their accents or hometown. I didn’t try to act as if I was above everyone else because my parents paid for my education. We were all in the same position, and from then on, it didn’t really matter where anyone came from. So, coming into a world of different dialects, and an overwhelming use of ‘London slang’, it was something to disband quite easily, and adopt several words from your new neighbours.
For others, the stereotype that went with their accent actually seemed to bother them, whether it stemmed from previous experience, or the initial nerves of not fitting in. A conversation with a friend, who came from a small country village in the heart of Somerset, made this presumption clearer. He claimed that people would think low of him, and that he wasn’t as intelligent as he actually was, insisting that his ‘farmer-like’ accent made him sound “simple”. In reality, he was far from it. You don’t think deeply into it, because you find yourself too busy laughing at the fact he said words differently, replacing a ‘-th’ with a ‘-f’ or that he elongated his ‘a’s and ‘r’s. His voice is amusing, and to a certain point, quite endearing. It was an accent that could make you laugh without really trying. It was interesting to hear that people would actually think this way about him before they had even got to know him, and just how impressionable your voice could be on other people.
Another friend had a very different experience. No one really took note of what type of school or upbringing she had, being raised in Staffordshire, but merely that she simply came from the ominous ‘North’. In fact, she doesn’t. It would berate her to be called a ‘Northerner’. However, at university, there seems to be no distinction between the South, the Midlands and the North. The Midlands doesn’t quite seem to exist. The country is seemingly divided between South and North, with Midlanders falling into the Northern category, purely because they live further north than the rest of us. When she divulged to a group of us halfway through the year that she too had attended private school, some were shocked, because she didn’t sound like she had gone to private school. Is that an insult to her, purely because maybe she didn’t sound ‘posh’ or ‘educated’ enough to have gone there? Or was she just good at blending into a diverse group of people?
It would be hopeful to say that this presumption to conclusions didn’t happen, but unfortunately, it does. And you might spend the entirety of first year trying to convince people that you aren’t a lesbian, you’ve never had afternoon tea with the Queen, and unsurprisingly you were aware of the male gender! Having recently played a video to a couple of my friends at university, of me and my friend in our last year of school, they were shocked to hear how my accent had changed from past to present. The rather pretentious voice I seemed to have acquired whilst I was at school seemed to have died down, and now I just sound ‘normal’ to my friends. But, everyone seems to slip back into their regional dialect when they go home for the holidays, and seems to get stronger around family and friends.
It’s sad that some people can’t seem to see past the voice that’s in front of them. But a voice is distinguishing feature, and we’ll have it forever. You never know, someone might find your accent exotic and endearing.