identity and voice

I had a lovely conversation with two girls at Our Lady of Victories Primary schools today. The girls where visiting from the nearby Holy Family secondary school. They asked me where I came from because they said I didn’t have an accent. I said I was born in Bradford but have spent a long time in London. One of the girls had an Irish background and the other a Welsh family, both of them regretted now having Keighley accents.

“How do you get an accent” one of them wondered and we discussed that it was about your immediate family, the people you spent time with and the community you belonged to. Accents change as people move from place to place and for many children their voice is a blend of Pakistani and Bradfordian.

I found myself explaining that when I was at school a northern accent was considered a disability and was something to be corrected. I had corrective elocution lessons. When I joined the BBC presentation team a northern accent was even then treated as an undesirable trait. The fact that I had a bit of a ‘twang’ was considered a brave departure at the time – even the fact that I came from the north at all was unsettling.

Our identity is expressed in many ways and the way we speak tells a story about who we are. I had the enormous pleasure of attending a poetry writing workshop with Simon Armitage last weekend and his northern voice is superb, infusing the way he speaks and writes.

I think we have to really celebrate and hold on to the things that make us distinctive and are expressions of who we are and where we have come from.

Thanks to the two girls.