According to a survey by online travel site Expedia, the UK and Ireland boast fifty-six recognised accents – more than most other English-speaking countries in the world. Our accents reflect our history and who we are as a people, and many feel a sense of pride in how they sound when they speak – at least they do until they get to work.
Recently, 4Com, a national telecoms provider, reported that, in a survey, more than a quarter of respondents (28%) said they changed their accents when they were at work. Of these, 13% said they weren’t aware they had changed their accent until someone told them they had. A further 44% said that they were mindful of how they were viewed by colleagues and customers as a result of their accent.
Why do people change their accents?
People change their accents for several reasons, but at work it seems that wanting to sound more professional and create a good impression are the primary reasons. This is especially true of younger workers, with 47% of those aged 18 to 44 changing the way they spoke as opposed to only 15% of those over 45. Whether this is due to peer pressure and a need to fit in with colleagues or a lack of self-confidence when people are first starting out in their careers is not clear. Other people say that they change their accents so as to not be judged or have assumptions made based on their class, level of education or race.
When do people change their accents?
People don’t seem to change their accents consistently. Rather, certain work-based situations seem to lead them to speak differently. For example, 27% of people say they change the way the speak on the phone because they are more conscious of their accent when making calls, and 20% of people adapt the way they speak in meetings.
Those working in certain regions are also more likely to change their accents as opposed to others. Over a third (35%) of those living in London changed how they spoke at work, for example, as opposed to Birmingham, where just under a quarter (24%) made changes.
Will there be a long-term impact?
People changing the way they speak to fit in is nothing new. In 2015, a study by the University of Glasgow identified a pattern going back a hundred years. However, with more people moving around the UK for work, it is a trend that has intensified and is likely to continue. As a result, in England at least we can expect to see more and more people speaking with the same accent, regardless of where they are originally from.