BBC Newsnight

By Emma Serlin
May 8, 2013

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A couple of weeks ago I received an interesting call from the BBC. It went something like this...'Hello, this is Tony from Newsnight', 'Hi', I said, 'this is Emma from London Speech Workshop'. So far so good. 'Well' said Tony, 'I'm calling because I don't know if you have noticed, but David Beckham speaks a whole lot better now than he did before'. 'Really?' I said, 'how interesting.' 'Whilst Tony Blair and George Osborne,' Tony continued, 'seem rather intent on dropping consonants and adopting some slang and generally sounding less posh. So what I want to know is, what's all that about?' ' Well Tony', I said, getting started, 'there's a whole lot I can tell you in answer to that question...'

And so I did. On Newsnight, a mere three hours later.

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The gist of it is, (and not all of this found its way into the edited piece you will see if you click on the link above) that people will often adapt their accent to suit their needs. An accent, and the way in which we communicate, is our outward facing way of showing who we are (and of course who we want people to think we are) to the world. It suits George Osborne's and Tony Blair's needs, to be seen as men who understand and fit in well with, your 'common folk' or the sprawling middle classes. So, rather than holding on to lengthy vowel sounds and clipped consonants which place them in an elevated upper middle class social echelon, they have dropped them, making an implicit statement that they are one of us…

Similarly, the Beckhams are seen to want to adopt all the associations that a neutral middle class accent has (and whether we like it or not, it does) associations of education, of social standing. And a sure fire way to do that, is to change their accents. An accent in which consonants are dropped and vowels shortened often has associations of a lower class, less education, and a more limited outlook. And this isn't just about accent, its about the power with which we communicate. A speaker with a regional accent can be a brilliant communicator, through using consonants, engaging with vowels and bringing colour into his voice, and similarly a speaker with a middle class accent can mumble and drop consonants and swallow sounds. David Beckham then has not just changed his accent, he has changed his approach to communication, opening his mouth more, engaging with his words, and as such his communication is clearer, more pleasant to listen to, and bizarrely but its the way communication works, he comes across as more intelligent, and interesting. So the overall message from this venturing towards a neutral sound from all sides is actually, the result is connecting more to others, and being better communicators from all ends of the spectrum!

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