Most of us are familiar with the BBC accent, the more refined version of which is sometimes called posh. It’s long been the standard for the British Broadcasting Corporation. But if you listen to the BBC today, you’ll hear a variety of UK accents (in the US, NPR sometimes broadcasts BBC News).
Some accents are stigmatized, associated with a lack of education or criminality. But featuring a variety of accents might reduce negative attitudes. As long as someone speaks clearly and uses correct grammar the accent shouldn’t matter.
What we in America sometimes call neutral or general American is associated with the evening news. But it’s not actually a neutral accent. People from the upper Midwest (like Tom Brokaw) sometimes say they have no accent. For whatever reason, that accent is the basis (with some alterations) of the so-called neutral American accent.
Other accents haven’t fared so well. If you want to imitate a stupid person, talk in a Southern accent. If you want to imitate a criminal, use a New York accent.
I previously wrote that the Southern accent is derived from a now extinct (and stigmatized) dialect from early 1600s Sussex, England. Dialect is not merely about geography. It’s also about time (that is, it changes over time). And it’s about social class.
But contrary to popular perception, regional dialects are not dying. Instead, language is constantly changing, so young folks don’t sound exactly like their grandparents. Regional differences still abound, however.
I’d like to see American broadcasters drop the fetish for neutrality and embrace speakers of all American accents.