When I first arrived at Cambridge and explored the city, my dad was quick to comment on something which was clearly a great concern.

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Despite the iconic scene of King’s College standing before us, and the quaintness of the punts on the River Cam, he still felt that something was not quite right: “I’ve not heard a bloody Northern accent yet.”

At the time, I taunted him for highlighting such a seemingly minor issue, joking that he was merely out of his comfort zone. But having spent two years in Cambridge, it transcended that his initial concern was rather pertinent. Accent is not a minor issue here – in fact, it is quite defining. Being from a small town near Manchester and coming to a university which seemingly lacks Northerners, or at least those who have kept their Northern accent, I am all too familiar with receiving comments on how I speak.

“There is definitely something disconcerting about a random, middle-class boy from Surrey repeating everything you say”

This isn’t always a negative experience. Sometimes, I enjoy having an accent which contrasts to the typical, nondescript, ‘proper’ English which prevails in Cambridge. My accent is a talking point, and gives me the opportunity to discuss a city and culture which I love. The classic old questions of ‘do you like Oasis and The Stone Roses?’ and ‘United or City?’ never become tedious. It’s also always a proud moment when my Southern friends pick up Manc phrases: ‘angin’ means disgusting, ‘dead’ means very, and the three meals of the day are breakfast, dinner and tea.

This isn’t to say, however, that there isn’t a more serious discussion to be had on the issue of accent at Cambridge. The assumed link between speaking ‘proper’ English and levels of intelligence is particularly damaging. At a top-class university where academic performance is central, this risks encouraging a sense of inferiority among students who have different accents- more so when this is commented on or mocked by others.

“An accent is much more than merely a tool for communication”

This awareness of dialect, however, is not necessarily the fault of those who do adopt ‘proper’ English. Rather, it is the result of an intense academic environment in which much emphasis is placed on articulating your ideas in a way which academics see fit. However, there is definitely something disconcerting about a random, middle-class boy from Surrey repeating everything you say in an over the top, drawn out, Northern accent. This form of condescension is unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence. It humiliates those with accents in an environment which they already may not feel comfortable. That I have met many students who shed their accent on coming to Cambridge, claiming that they had to “tone it down” as “people couldn’t understand” them, suggests that there is a serious issue surrounding accent here, with people changing in order to feel accepted. There were certainly times – such as in my first Freshers’ Week when I was mistaken for an international student, or when a supervisor cuttingly corrected my response of “defo” with “you mean ‘definitely’” – where I considered attempting to dilute my accent.

However, an accent is much more than merely a tool for communication. It signals the culture, background, and geographical origins of a person. So, I feel that different accents should be embraced rather than unfairly judged for not always adhering to the so-called ‘correct’ way of speaking. Cambridge has taught me that if I had to choose between being perceived as more ‘intelligent’ by changing the way I speak, or embracing my dialect, along with the city and working class culture with which I associate it, I’d choose the latter every time

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