What’s in an accent? Well, the Yorkshire one is said to be the most intelligent-sounding. Well we all know that! ANDREW BALDWIN studies the very latest language research
‘I don’t think it’s whether you have an accent or not. It’s whether you speak clearly so people can understand you’
THEY’VE discovered what everybody around these parts has long known; the Yorkshire accent is the most intelligent-sounding.
A study matching accents with perceived intelligence found that the accent was rated as more intelligent than the clipped vowels and precise diction of what is popularly known as the Queen’s English.
Scientists asked 48 volunteers to look at photos of female models while listening to recordings of women with different accents describing their lives.
They were then asked to rate the pictured models for intelligence, giving them marks out of 10.
Scores were given for Yorkshire, Birmingham and RP (received pronunciation, or Queen’s English) accents and volunteers were also asked to give an intelligence rating when no voice was played.
To avoid participants being influenced by appearance, models of roughly equal attractiveness were chosen for the photos and the accents attributed to them mixed up.
The researchers found that accents made no difference to perceptions of attractiveness, but had a significant impact on whether or not a particular model was seen as intelligent.
Speaking Brummie gave an even worse impression than having nothing to say.
Yorkshire folk are seen in a positive light, being perceived as “wise, trustworthy, honest and straightforward”.
All of which pleases proud Yorkshirewoman Janet Harwood, for one.
She was brought up in Huddersfield and although she now lives in Halifax makes regular return trips to Berry Brow to take her uncle shopping.
She says: “I prefer the Yorkshire accent to the Birmingham one. I lived there for some years; they couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand them at first.
“It’s certainly true that Yorkshire people are straightforward and not afraid to call a spade a spade.
“My daughter is down in London and has difficulty getting on with some people because they seem to take offence so easily. All she’s doing is being a Yorkshire person saying what she thinks.”
But what does it really matter, says Bob Smith, from Crosland Moor.
“A regional accent, wherever it comes from, should be no indicator of intelligence. It shouldn’t matter,” he says.
Maggie Stead, also from Crosland Moor, says: “I don’t think it’s whether you have a regional accent or not. It’s whether you speak clearly so that other people understand you.”
Pauline Bourroughs, who lives in Thongsbridge, is a Birmingham woman who came to Yorkshire in 1984.
You think she’d be upset by the survey. But she has a surprising admission; she doesn’t really like the Brummie twang.
Pauline says: “People always take the mickey out of me and I have to say I just don’t like the accent myself when we go back to Birmingham.
“Still, it’s part of you. There’s no changing when you’ve spent such a long time in one place. I don’t really care, when all’s said and done.”
Dr Lance Workman, who led the research at Bath Spa University, said times had changed since the days when Received Pronunciation was seen as the language of the elite.
“Thirty years ago 10% of the population went to university,” said Dr Workman, who presented his findings at the British Psychological Society’s annual meeting in Dublin.
“If someone had RP you'd probably think they had gone to university. Today, 44% of young people go to university. I think there's been a shift in what we expect from somebody who is educated. There's been this change from elite education to mass education.”
At the same time Yorkshire is no longer associated with collieries and 1980s industrial unrest, said Dr Workman.
“I think something special’s happening in Yorkshire,” Dr Workman added.
“With the closure of the mines people are no longer associating Yorkshire with ‘trouble at pit’. Leeds has a lot of money and is a buzzing place.”