On Pretending

Given that our campaign started out with a push for a Class Officer at LSE, I thought it'd be fitting to start off our experience blog with one about accents that I wrote during the campaign. A short expression of what it's like to live with a working class accent in a Received Pronunciation world, please enjoy the following article written with all the angst and emotions of someone running a referendum campaign on bad coffee and four hours' sleep - Chris

I speak with a Lutonian accent. It sounds a lot like a South London one, but slightly worse and not as fast. I’m still learning to like the way I talk, and I’m getting there, but it’s a long process. I still catch myself putting on a home-counties voice when I’m on campus. I still assume that I won’t be taken seriously if I speak to people in the accent I grew up with. I still have to remind myself every day that my voice is not a source of shame or sign of stupidity, because I’ve spent the last two and a half years (or the past twenty if you want to get all sociological about it) being taught in near-explicit terms that it is.

I went through most of my first year absolutely hating the way I spoke. I’d sit in classes or in pubs with people from all over the world and listen to their voices rumble and crackle with culture. They’d dance with their words without knowing it, moving their mouths and twisting their voices in ways that I couldn’t even attempt. In stark contrast to the flowing and lyrical conversation around me I would stumble over my consonants and drag through my vowels, and could almost feel my hometown arching my back and slacking my jaw with every word. Sitting in a group of middle class students, as well-meaning as many of them were, felt like I was watching people ballroom dance through the windows of a manor I’d never be welcome in, while I was stood in a bog and trying to stop my wellies from coming off in the mud.  

My second year started off easier. Submerging myself in the culture at LSE had given me hints of RP by osmosis and I’d managed to hold onto the sharper edges of this new accent over a summer working at home. When I’d talk I’d hear an intelligence in my voice I didn’t know was there before, and I was speaking with a confidence that I hadn’t had since I arrived in London. It was quite nice for a while, actually, and I settled into a good flow for a solid part of the year. Then I watched a video of myself that was recorded in sixth form, and saw a chasm between the voice of a kid proud of his class and his home and the clumsy attempt at Received Pronunciation I’d cloaked myself in. My accent was still not an Etonian one, but had lost the warmth I’d associated with the accent I’d first brought to LSE. I felt alien when I spoke, a pretender when I was in London and a stranger when I was at home. 

I think my relationship with my voice says a lot about my experience of class at LSE. I’m growing proud in it now. Rather than forcing myself into a shape that blends in with everyone else in a seminar or meeting I’m becoming comfortable and confident in my difference, as I hope all working class students are. It’s hard to feel at home when your accent has stood for ignorance, bigotry and violence in the eyes (or ears) of many of the people around you, but I’m managing. You could draw wider conclusions here about the importance of representation and the cultural inequality between classes that is often overlooked. But, for now at least, I’d just like to leave you with a heartfelt plea to be proud of your voice. It is one of the purest forms of expression we have, it is you, and it is beautiful.

And if you can’t love your voice for its own sake, do it for the sake of the immense effort it took me to write that hyper-cheesy closing line.

Chris Fairley