The UK is lucky enough to have a fantastically wide range of accents and dialects (the two are different - accent refers specifically to the way you pronounce words, whereas dialect includes vocabulary, grammar and all aspects of language). We're also very sensitive to other accents, for many reasons. The great diversity itself is one reason: people speak so differently in places really not that far away, you can't help but notice it. Perhaps another is that our society is (and was even more so until recently) class-based, and 'having an accent' (i.e. speaking an accent other than Received Pronunciation) used to mean you were working-class. This was a Bad Thing if you were looking to get on in life, but equally 'speaking posh' could get you ridiculed among your peers.
Thankfully times have changed and now a regional accent shouldn't hold you back from getting that well-paid job or place at Cambridge. But we do still unconsciously make judgements about people based on the way they speak. This is a topic that's been extensively researched, and the results consistently come out the same. If you ask people to make judgments about a speaker based solely on their voice (under controlled conditions known as a 'matched guise' test), you find that people with accents like Yorkshire, Geordie and Glaswegian are considered to be friendly, honest, but not the sharpest tool in the box. Conversely, people who speak with an RP accent are thought to be haughty and unfriendly, but authoritative and intelligent.
"American listeners, who do not recognise a Birmingham accent when they hear one, who know nothing about Birmingham and who probably don't even know where it is, do not find the Birmingham accent unpleasant at all. And everything they know about London leads them to find London accents highly attractive." (Bad Language, page 136: Andersson and Trudgill, 1990)Anyway, I've recently had reason to think about this because I've been spending an inordinate amount of time talking to people in call centres. I had quite a lot of problems with my broadband (it was rubbish) and before I could get out of my contract, Virgin needed me to do the same things (changing the name of the network, plugging it into a different socket, etc.) over and over again with about six different 'technical advisors'. None of this worked, of course, but because I talked to so many different people, I noticed that they all spoke with a strong Welsh accent (I'd guess South Wales, I think).
|Alex Jones (the one on the right) has a strong Welsh accent|