How much will University change the way you talk, or how much will you let it do so?
University brings a wide range of change for people. Change of location; lifestyle; maybe your turn up jeans might get that little bit further up past your ankle. Another change that might go slightly more unnoticed is your accent. The very nature of University brings hundreds, if not thousands, of different pronunciations and dialects together in a big linguistic cocktail. But how likely is this new environment to change the way you say bath? Or determine whether that round piece of bread is a roll, muffin, cob, bap or barm? For future reference, it's barm; you’re in Manchester now.
According to the director of the Centre for Mind, Brain, and Learning at the University of Washington, Patricia Kuhl, our accents are engrained into our brains as early as 6 months suggesting it may be difficult if you want to shrug of those features of your accent which you think need to go.
However being surrounded by a collection of accents is surely bound to have some effect on different people. Making new friends from all over the country and the world develops many students’ social groups into what is known in sociolinguistics as an "open network"; a situation where an individual has contacts and friends in many areas. This is the opposite of a closed network, where all the individual's contacts are in one closer area, geographically and socially. These different scenarios translate into varying influences upon the individual's accent.
The expansion of a social network is particularly more significant for those from working class families or areas. I never heard any Cambridge accents in Rochdale, for example. Some students might be apprehensive to speak up in their thick brummie or scouse accents, instead adopting a more neutral accent. Accent has long been linked with class and education, where in the past, and sadly still today for some, a more upper class or neutral accent is thought to make you sound more professional and well informed. Meanwhile, a scouse accent might make people pad their pockets for fear their effects may be missing. Attitudes do seem to be shifting however, with the perceived posher "Received Pronunciation" accent now being viewed as many as cold and lacking in empathy towards others.
Change in someone’s speech isn’t a one way street. Students don't always become more spiffing. There is many a Rupert or Maximilian, who, having found themselves in new surroundings, have started smoking Amber Leaf roll ups. Not to forget their penchant for developing a love of grime. Perhaps, if you are lucky, you may catch the 'aged' shoes and shirts from the Urban Outfitters retro renewal section. You know the type. And of course along with that comes their newly adopted edgy slang! This trait, in the magical world of linguistics, is termed "covert prestige". The desire to pull off the minimalist effort avant-garde - "I woke up and found these rags laying around".
Will they maintain their poise? Or between semesters will they revert back to tweed and James Blunt? A question as old as time.
You can’t really blame them. We all do things to fit in from time to time, half of which may not even be intentional. It's just one of those things. Be proud of where you’re from and don’t be too scared to change either - just don’t be a nob about it.
Jake Robinson is a first-year Law with Politics undergraduate studying at The University of Manchester