Jodie Comer Has Officially Lost Her Scouse Accent – And, As A Fellow Scouser, I’m Not Surprised…

Conscious or not, class bias often means people with regional accents lose them over time, writes Georgia Aspinall.

Jodie Comer

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

A month into living in Essex for university, I called my sister to catch up. ‘Why the hell are you speaking like that?’ she asked me almost immediately – to which I had no reply. It’s not that I hadn’t realised my Scouse accent had slowly developed a southern twang, it’s more that I had no idea why.

Jodie Comer seems similarly unaware of her changing voice, which became increasingly noticeable this week in a video promoting her latest film, Free Guy. Alongside co-star Ryan Reynolds, Comer promotes the film with an interview parody that reveals how much more successful she is than Reynolds. Her comedic timing is impeccable, but her accent is what’s drawing attention.

While Comer does still live with her parents in Liverpool, she has been spending an increasing amount of time in the US in the past year and will continue to do so as she promotes other projects. And yet, her accent hasn’t necessarily become 'Joss Stone American'; instead, it’s become more southern English – that Received Pronunciation (RP) accent that was once famously taught to David Beckham to ‘poshify’ him for media interviews (with arguably mixed results...).

It’s not surprising, really, because as many people with regional accents know, accent softening is a gradual reality of moving away from home. Sometimes it may be conscious – for example, when you are explicitly told ‘no one can understand you’ and thus you tone it down in certain settings (as I had to when I moved to Essex).

Sometimes, though, it’s more subconscious. Because, when you’re from a city like Liverpool, you’re implicitly and explicitly judged to be working class whether you are or not – and therefore uncultured and unintelligent. Knowing these prejudices, Scousers are well aware that the strongest reminder of their home city – having a Scouse accent – may be doing them a disservice.

Women feel this pressure more, as we’re judged so harshly on how we appear and come across

‘You need to soften your accent if you want that job; it’s just not professional,’ a woman from Surrey once told me when I was 16. My family had met her family on holiday, and I was politely explaining that I’d applied for a customer service job at New Look - in Speke, Liverpool. She told me I’d never get it speaking the way I do. I nodded and smiled, already used to the assumptions that come from being a Scouser. The jokes from Southerners about us robbing them, for instance (you soon learn it’s not worth the argument).

Comments like that, of course, feed into your subconscious over the years. And I’m not alone. In researching a feature on the legacy of the Hillsborough disaster for Grazia, I learnt of many similar stories of class-based prejudice towards Scousers that can often be disguised in remarks about your accent.

'One of the most well-accepted ideas in sociolinguistics is that we sound like the people we talk to and are close to,' says Dr Danielle Turton, lecturer in sociolinguistics from Lancaster University. 'So if we move away, we’re no longer having repeated and frequent spoken contact with the people that share our accent and dialect.

'Add to this the social pressures associated with regional accents in this country – so Standard Southern British English as the prestige, and regional accents frequently being discriminated against – then speakers with regional accents may feel the pressure to change. And women feel this pressure more, undoubtedly, as we’re judged so harshly on how we appear and come across.'

According to Dr Turton, a famous study from the 1970s by Peter Trudgill on the Norwich accent found that women change their accent much more drastically than men in formal situations because they are more subject to social pressures. 'You’d like to think this would have changed since the Seventies, but sadly I don’t think it’s changed anywhere near as much as we think it has. Women with regional accents just aren’t that visible.'

It’s with those subconscious biases in mind that people with regional accents may change them in time without even realising. Or, seek to change them explicitly. Superprof, for example, which is an online tutoring company, has nearly 3,000 tutors offering elocution lessons. Comer will have surely had to undertake similar speech altering courses for her job, given her most famous role is that of a Russian assassin. And so, it’s not unfathomable that her accent has changed as a result of simply learning so many different ones.

But it’s also not unfathomable that she too has fallen victim to the same bias many people with regional accents feel when they move away. After all, not only is she a woman in an industry that still explicitly favours men, but she’s also one of very few notable Scouse female actors. In 2016, research from the London School of Economic and Goldsmiths University found that 73% of actors are from middle-class backgrounds.

'Jodie must feel this pressure [to change her accent] ten times over being an actor,' Turton agrees, 'Especially where most of her peers are privately educated RP speakers, and auditions will probably prefer a “neutral” accent, so not too working-class sounding'

Comer may be from a middle-class background herself – it’s not actually known what her parents do for a living – but that wouldn’t matter in a society that assumes all Scousers are working class.

Read More:

Why Phoebe Waller-Bridge And Jodie Comer Aren’t Forgetting Their British Roots

'The Legacy Of Hillsborough Still Impacts Young Liverpudlian Women Like Me'

Why Jodie Comer Is Killing It Right Now

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