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African Britishness – Accent and The British Class System…

African Britishness
On Accents James Giddins
Image by James Giddins – Unsplash

In truth, I will say that accent defines you more in Britain than anywhere else in the world. That is why this week my focus is on African Britishness in relation to the British class system. Of course, this is my own tongue in cheek writing and there is a lot of talk out there that class is no longer as rigid in Britain than it used to be.

I have created my own classification for British accent as platinum, diamond, gold, silver and the melting pot of bronze which is everything else! The presence of a rigid class system indicates that segregation of the highest order is in place but it is not in the line of colour, but of intonation.

Platinum, Diamond, Gold, Silver Accents

First, I will start with the top and most valued accent: the quintessential Queen’s English. It is a rarefied accent acquired through birth. As a result, anyone who speaks like the royal family does so by dint of being born an aristocrat. It is an upper class accent. We shall call this Platinum.

The second most valuable accent is the upper middle class accent. Shall we call this diamond? This accent is acquired through birth, wealth and education.

Kate Middleton, for instance, has a good command of the upper middle class accent. One would wonder how she acquired that considering she comes from a middle class background. Interestingly, her successful wealthy parents sent her to very good schools where she acquired this.

Next is the middle class accent. This is polished English, and is obtained through a middle class upbringing – mother and father who are teachers, social workers, directors, etc. This kind of accent is widely used by middle income families. I call this gold.

Then you have the working class accent- the common one. This kind is acquired from parents who are involved in manual labour, have little or no formal education, earn low income, and are on benefit perhaps or live in social housing, etc. We can call this silver as every English accent be it upper or working class is valued outside of England.

Image by Kings Church International – Unsplash

Movement Between Classes

However, there can be movement between classes. For example, a working class person might do well enough either through education or money to live middle or upper middle class life, as Kate Middleton has done. I think her ancestors were working class or a mix but over the years her family became gentrified. Gentrification ensures that the next generation are well schooled and the family marry above their class in order to eradicate a working class life.

For example, this is what the great chefs Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, the billionaire Sir Alan Sugar and other successful working class people did. You would bet their children have been sent to the best schools, and therefore, would emerge into upper middle class.

You could also marry an Aristocrat as Kate Middleton did, or an Aristocrat marry a working class as Zara Philips did, but you will forever be defined by where you came from.

The Melting Pot – Bronze

Here comes the melting pot; people like me, immigrants or British-born but who grew up elsewhere. We are the bronze accent. Most children of immigrants are likely to come from working or middle class and rise up to upper middle class. They can go from bronze to silver, gold or diamond by the 2nd or 3rd generation. It depends on where you choose to live and the kind of education you give to your children.

For example, I have a friend who studiously avoided bringing up her children in London (a great decision) and decided to groom them for grammar schools or scholarships to private schools. She succeeded as all of them are doing well. One of them is in Eton College.

It is difficult or rare to get to platinum if you came from immigrant of colour. This was achieved in 2013 by Emma Thynn(nee McQuiston). Emma is the biracial daughter of an English mother and an oil tycoon Nigerian father. She is married to the son of the Marquess of Bath and her formal title is Viscountess Weymouth. The second person to achieve this recently is Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex.

Image by Matt Briney – Unsplash

Acceptance of your Accent

When you hear that British accent, try to distinguish between all of these.

For me, I am on the sideline; I am both British and Nigerian with a strong Nigerian accent.

Despite barriers and everything else faced by being an African British woman with a Nigerian accent, still I rise!

Apart from all the accents identified above, there are the regional British accents from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and everywhere else.

If you do really want to know more it is best to do some research.

Do hang out with me on Twitter

Or come and see me on Instagram

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Very interesting read… although I wouldn’t put Meghan in that category. On accents, I now have better appreciation for this around the English language. I grew up thinking everyone here spoke in RP like on TV. After a long conversation deciphering the Newcastle accent I have better appreciation for Hausas p &f, the yoruba H-factor and igbos r & f.

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