Wednesday 15 September 2010

Mythbusting: British People Just Sound Smart

Do a quick google of  "British people sound smart" and you will see this myth plastered all over the ill-informed Internet.  One website that claims to teach you how to "make yourself sound smart in a few easy steps" (??)  says,"everyone knows British accents sound smarter" and goes on to tell it's readers to fake the accent.   Please don't. I beg you.
Allow me to put this myth to rest once and for all.

I don't remember being taught proper subject-verb agreement as a child. I always assumed it was the easiest grammatical rule that everyone just knew and never had to second guess. Even if you don't know what I mean when I say "subject-verb agreement", I guarantee that you practice it correctly each and every day (unless you are one of those who has lead me to write this post).   Basically, verbs (you know, the action words) must agree with the subject in the sentence.  I was, you were, they were, she was, it was, etc etc. Duh, right?  Apparently not.

At first I though it was only Jeremy Kyle's guests who repeatedly said "I were..." and I blamed it on poor education. I assumed it was comparable to people who say "he don't know" or " I ain't got" - something that is never viewed as correct, and is only said by the uneducated, never by a professional person. Then I kept hearing it. I heard policemen and paramedics say it on real crime TV shows, I heard characters who were supposed to be portrayed as intelligent on scripted TV shows say it and I had to get to the bottom of it. Why were seemingly well educated people saying "I were..." instead of the obviously correct "I was..."?

I found this website that informed me that in parts of Northern England and the Midlands, it was considered a dialect rather than an error.  Are you kidding me?   "She were wearing a mask"?!?   Apparently, this is what politically correct linguists call non-standard grammar, but its what I call grammatically incorrect and what makes certain British people sound anything but smart.

"But, Ms LadyLiberty", you may say "I wasn't talking about THOSE British people - I was talking about the typical British accent!"   Oh right.. you mean like how the Queen talks? 

This brings me to another myth - people in England speak like the Queen.
Here's the low down on the Queen's accent - Liz, as I call her, speaks in Received Pronunciation (RP) and is one of only 2% of the population of the UK (vast majority in England rather than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) who speak this way.  Unlike most accents, RP is not regional, but very much social - it tells more about a persons socioeconomic level than where they were raised or currently live.   Honestly, you would be hard pressed to come across a person other than Liz or someone on television who speaks with an RP accent.  It is far from the "typical British accent" and I predict it will be phased out in the near-ish future.



  1. You was totally right! (ha ha I couldn't resist) Love ya

  2. It is dialectical. Trace the history of English language in Britain if you don't believe me. Just because the written form is standard for eduction does not mean that you can dismiss regional variants.

    In other words, deal with it :D

  3. Yes, Megan I understand it is dialectical (as I said just that in my post), but my opinion on the subject is that this dialect makes people SOUND uneducated. Luckily, I live in the South, so have to "deal with it" quite rarely.