Any accent carries with it a whole raft of connotations. It can tell a listener where you’re from. It can tell them what class you are, what your family did and what your aspirations are. It is an audial history, carried from your tongue.
But an accent is nothing more than a way of voicing the consonants and vowels in a certain language. It is a mechanical process. The trouble is that this mechanical process carries with it your identity. Your accent is part of your voice, and part of what makes you distinctive and unique.
So accent softening is not about taking away your voice, your heritage, your identity. It is about working out which of the habits inherent to your accent are restricting clarity. In professional settings you want to be able to get your meaning across, unhindered by any moments of “What? What did you say?”. Even worse than that is bewildered politeness that you see in someone’s eyes when they nod along to something you said without any comprehension. So accent softening is all about clarity and effectiveness. Why then, does it have a reputation of making you sound posh?
It just so happens that the accent that has the most inherent clarity is also the poshest-sounding. Received Pronunciation (RP), or the variety of english spoken by actors such as Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, is the clearest variety of spoken english that we know of. Its name comes from being received at court – high officials were expected to speak with clarity, so the sounds that they produced became an accent that denoted being of high class. You can hear it today mostly on the BBC, though regional accents are coming in more and more.
RP is not the Queen’s English – the type of english spoken by The Queen or Prince Charles. That is what’s called Heightened RP – a highfalutin sound which denotes extreme wealth. Accent softening is not about trying to make you sound posh – it’s about being able to communicate effectively. If Glaswegian or Liverpudlian was the clearest accent around, that’s what we’d be aiming at.
So in this series, we’re going to be looking at the common mistakes that people make when trying to speak with clarity, and the ways that you can communicate effectively. First up – the ‘L’ sound.