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Scrolling through Facebook during a particularly boring moment in a lecture, I come across the latest click-bait from The Independent: 13 Words to Avoid if You Want to Sound Posh. Trying to work out when ‘dinner’ is – afternoon or evening – has become a running joke among my friends when trying to make plans. In fact, one once brought a mug to my room when I asked if she wanted to have ‘tea’ with me. As I had known all along, my commitment to the fact that ‘tea’ is an evening meal leaves me confined to the category of ‘not posh’. Imagine my disappointment.

“My accent has grown only stronger since being at Cambridge”

This apparently pervasive obsession with voices and accents as linked to a class identity has proven to be particularly salient in Cambridge. Even before my interview, one of my teachers asked if I was going to moderate my accent so as to sound ‘more polished’. In response, I recall making a concerted effort to not adapt my south-of-Manchester-north-of-Stoke accent to that of my interviewers. Two years later, and I still say ‘war-ar’ instead of ‘water’, and have the ‘bath/barth’ debate regularly with my friends. In fact, whilst people at home returned from universities such as Edinburgh and Liverpool proudly speaking in a newly affected accent, my accent has grown only stronger since being at Cambridge.

On reflection, I can confidently affirm that one of the reasons that my accent has become stronger whilst in Cambridge is because I relish the chance to say something vaguely intelligent in a lecture or supervision, in something other than a polished, ‘proper’ accent. In a lecture delivered by a woman with a regional accent, and who is a self-proclaimed product of the state school system, not moderating my voice felt like an act of solidarity; a not-so-silent protest at the under-representation of people like us at the University.

“Discussing the intricacies of Hobbes and Weber in a northern accent feels to me like an act of protest”

But whilst my accent has adapted itself since being at Cambridge, the University has not done the same for me. As an undergraduate faculty board representative, I have been asked to repeat myself in meetings with some of the most important academics in their field; people who understand Kant, Rousseau and Leibniz, but apparently not a regional accent. Friends have had similar experiences; an MML student studying French and German has found himself to be repeatedly mocked for his Sunderland accent in supervisions – by the supervisor. A girl ran up to my friend from Stockport at the Freshers’ Fair the other day, and excitedly told him she was from Manchester and hadn’t heard ‘anyone who sounds like her’ after her first week at Cambridge.

Regardless of the sparsity of people with regional accents in Cambridge, a more worrying problem has recently occurred to me. I am now concerned that my teacher at sixth form was right. Whilst discussing the intricacies of Hobbes and Weber in a northern accent feels to me like an act of protest, I can’t help but wonder whether my opinions and points are in fact deemed less valid or interesting, because of the voice with which they are delivered.

Whether we admit it or not, for many people class and intelligence is inherently bound up with language and voice. Recently, I was shocked to hear people mocking different ‘classes’ of names and the different accents associated with them. Whilst I have been called ‘divisive’ for invoking class and identity when talking about my schooling experience or background, class continues to be invoked around me. The privileged use factors such as an accent to categorise people into class groups, or worse, as an indication of their intelligence. It shocks me that at such a forward-thinking university, the rich are allowed to talk about class, but the poor are not.

Talking about an issue is the first step to resolving it, and I am going to keep going, right until the end. Even if I have to repeat myself

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