Accented Voices

Listen to someone speaking your own language and you can usually tell where they are from. The clue is their accent. It might reveal where they come from within the country, or their family origin from elsewhere. Or you might only be able to say “that’s a foreign accent” but not know which language is their mother tongue. Britain’s class-ridden society is parodied in the film My Fair Lady in which Professor Higgins can detect the very district in London that the flower seller, Eliza, came from. He takes on the task of trying to change her accent to the ‘received pronunciation’ or ‘Queen’s English’ that he speaks.

Broadcasting “standard version” language?

National broadcasters tend to support the standard version of their language. This was the case with the BBC for a long time before local radio, introduced in the late 1960s, made a virtue of promoting regional accents. Nowadays, as you walk through the streets of London – and of most European cities - you can hear many different accents and languages: “migration is a long-standing element of urban experience, and …cities would be unthinkable without migration” (Yildiz 2007:5).[1]

This part of the TRE project (IP5, together with IP6) has been studying the ways ethnic minorities are using community radio to make connections with local and transnational communities. Language, the key vehicle of culture, acts in different contexts as both a bridge and a barrier. The mother tongue of the country of origin, broadcast by a community radio station, is a reassuring comfort as well as a crucial means of communication for newly arrived refugees and migrants in an alien environment, and connects with both the homeland and the diaspora. For longer established migrant communities, their native language is increasingly at risk of being forgotten by the younger generations. For them, radio has a different role. Yet another role is the mixing of the migrant community’s own language with that of the host country (bilingual or multilingual broadcasting) in a policy which tries to bridge the gap, something that is common practice in the speech of younger generations of migrants, known as code-switching or multi-languaging. 

A broadcaster in a community radio station in North East England spoke about his bilingual performance:

because my Urdu isn’t very good so I tend  to do some in Urdu , a bit of  Mirpuri (a Panjabi language) and about 60% in English. A lot of people are bilingual. We tend to speak that way. You might use your mother tongue and then flip to English so people talk in a number of different languages-this is how we normally communicate. You might get a caller whose command of the language isn’t as good as his English so the presenter might speak to him in Urdu and he’ll give his response in English. I do it quite often myself. There are certain things I can’t express in my mother tongue - Mirpuri. The listeners are used to having that approach.


[1] Yildiz, E.(2007)’A different narrative on migration’ in Inter.Media  Intercultural Media Training in Europe: handbook for community media trainers and editors