Jonathan Meades on Jargon

Did anyone (those of you not shitfaced at a festival) watch this? I’m generally a bit of a fan of his stuff, but this seemed a bit, well, obvious in parts. Slagging off cliches in football commentary, tabloid journalism and art criticism. I think most people consider those absurd.

I was a bit more interested in his assertion that regional accents and dialects are a) excluding and b) more prevalent than they used to be. I’m not sure the latter is true, and in relation to the former, he seemed, as many middle class English people do, to assume that people like him don’t have an “accent”. They do. However, the implication that that particular accent is the one everyone should adopt is itself rather exclusive and arrogant, surely?

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His programmes on architecture are better I think.

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Obviously not seen this but if he was meaning ‘in broadcasting’ for regional accents being more prevalent then I’d say he was absolutely correct: even when I was a kid regional accents felt very much to not be a thing you allowed to announcers etc. so I think this has changed.

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I too thought it was a bit scattergun. He covered too much ground without really getting his teeth into anything.

Whenever I watch Meades I always enjoy the ride, but when I stop and think about much of what he has actually said, there’s an awful lot that is either really cheap or actively bollocks.

An interesting point about Gaelic broadcasting though.

I meant more in general use, but, yes, in broadcasting you’re probably right (although he did, rightly, point out that some accents are still seen as unsuitable in that context - you don’t get people with Brummie accents reading the news, for example).

Ha was actually going to mention that along with Essex but figured actually you don’t get any strong accents but light Brummie or Essex simply aren’t nearly as obvious

This sounds like bullshit of the purest strain

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Received pronunciation, I think it is called, used to be the default for the telly. So maybe he is equating RP with the idea of no accent. It irks me so fucking much when they subtitle someone on the telly when they’ve got a hint of an accent. Just plain laziness from some audience members.

Used to work in a call centre and would regularly be asked if they had anyone else they could speak to who “spoke English”. I am Scottish but wouldn’t say I’ve got the thickest accent or owt.

So much this. Really patronising.

I thought some of his points about regional accents were interesting. I think there has been a general flattening out of accents in the south into a kind of bland ‘estuary’ but the accents of the great Northern cities have become more and more pronounced. Listen to a clip of a 60s Scouser or Geordie or Mancunian and the accents are not as broad as they are now.

I have often wondered why this is and I think Meade’s analysis is persuasive- the accent has become a deliberate expression of pride and identity. Those cities with strong identities (Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester etch have therefore seen accents get stronger whereas in the South there has perhaps been more of tendency to approximate to London patterns of speech.

His secondary point, that broader accents are a barrier to communication and social mobility is controversial but hard to argue with I think.

Is that not coz they weren’t as widely broadcast as they are now though? My gran’s as north manc as I am, like.

With you on accents being an expression of pride and identity (I’ve noticed my accent gets thicker the further I am from home :grinning:) but I’m not sure about them being a barrier to social mobility any more than any other north/south dividing thing

I’ve got a friend whose family have lived in Liverpool for generations and is fiercely proud of the city- he and his parents both swear blind that accents have got much stronger to an almost ridiculous degree. If you compare a working class Scouser of today to, say, Cilla Black or Jimmy Tarbuck or Ian Callaghan or Tommy Smith the difference is quite marked.

I’m not sure the degree that is because accents have genuinely got stronger or because in the 60s people made an effort to modulate their accents in order to be better understood but either way Meade’s point holds.

I live in Yorkshire and work all over the North and encounter people from all groups and classes. I’ve always enjoyed the variety of accents as opposed to the boring Estuary English I grew up with, but sometimes in places like Newcastle and Liverpool it seems to me that accents are so broad and exaggerated that they seem almost to be deliberately played up in order to be impenetrable to outsiders, which I think was one of the points Meades was making. I understand why people would do that, but it has the same distancing, divisive effect that other jargons have (which is exactly what he was saying). As a lawyer, I recognise his points about the use of legal jargon to obfuscate and create distance but I though it was interesting that he argued that regional accents are now used deliberately in the same way - it’s not an argument I’ve heard before and I thought it was persuasive.

Probably true, which is why it is hard to sure about it. I just thought it was an interesting argument.

As I said above, I’ve always found it interesting how accents in the south seem to be dying but they are definitely not in the north. In East Anglia, for instance young people seem normally to speak a variety of Estuary while their parents and grandparents speak in an identifiable Norfolk or Suffolk accent. In my experience young people in Northern cities generally speak in as broad if not broader local accent than the older generation. That’s just anecdotal based on the people I encounter but it’s quite marked.

I think the only real explanation for that is the accent being used deliberately to express identity- the difference between Liverpool and Manchester and Leeds accents is extraordinary if you think about it considering the cities are only 30 - 40 miles apart from each other (try telling the difference between a Guildford and a Reading and Southampton accent), but explicable as deliberate expression of regional identity and pride.

Oh they do. Worse still, we’ve got our own language, specifically to exclude them personally.


You make it sound more pejorative than I mean it to be (or probably I’m not expressing myself clearly enough). I just think it’s a deliberate expression of a group identity that has the effect of excluding others who are not members of the same group (either by virtue of geography or class). Lots of groups act like that (as Meades argued) - lawyers, politicians, doctors etc - and he used the word jargon to explain what was happening. Obviously the power dynamic is different when you’re talking about a regional group (they’re not expressing power in the same way as, say, doctors or lawyers) but some of the effects (mutual incomprehension, division) are comparable.

One of this arguments was that at one time it was expected that the influence of mass media and particularly television would lead to a homegenization of accents and that had not happened. I would argue it has happened in the South (he didn’t) - I think the reason is that young people in the South East don’t feel the same degree of pride and identification with their cities as people in the great Northern cities - they would generally prefer to identify with London than with, say, Ipswich or Reading. That is a positive thing about the North, not a criticism at all. The pride and particularisation of those Northern cities is part of what makes them great.

One thing that has changed since the 1960s is the number of people who have moved out of London and into other parts of the south. This is also likely to be affecting accents in those areas, I should think.

That’s interesting. Notice it a bit at football grounds. Do wonder if some of the lads there speak like that when they’re at work etc. Bumped into an old friend from school at West Ham a couple of seasons ago and he’d gone full on Bow Bells when he never sounded like that before.

Was going to swerve this programme but it sounds interesting. Downloading now.

There was a study of this kind of phenomena done in Martha’s Vineyard in the 1970’s. The island was becoming a big tourist spot and the old fishermen who lived there started to subconsciously strengthen their accents to sort of assert their own identity and then the other residents of the island started to pick up this new, stronger accent as they associated the fishermen as industrious, virtuous and symbolic of what they thought the island should be all about. The old fishermen’s accent gradually became the norm for the permanent residents of the island. Really interesting stuff.

Not sure if the phenomena is prevalent in the UK or not tbh but it’s definitely a recognised thing.


The middle class north east accent is weird. I know someone who incorrectly pronounces the name of the village he grew up in.