Growing up in Leeds, I never particularly noticed my northernness. Surrounded by other Yorkshire pudding-eating, umbrella-carrying lads and lasses, the customs of the North were all I knew. But upon my arrival at university, I immediately discovered that where I came from would soon become an important factor in how I define myself and how others see me. These are the debates we’ve all had time and time again. Is it lunch then dinner or dinner then tea? Or maybe it’s neither and supper is served. Does scone rhyme with cone or with gone? I’ve even found myself offended by Southern pronunciations which butcher the names of Northern and Scottish places, such as ‘Newcarstle’ and ‘Glarsgow’. Then again, there’s clearly a certain hypocrisy there as you’d never catch me inserting an ‘r’ into Bath. The age-old geographical question of the North-South divide still causes friction. Northerners and Southerners alike argue over where to draw the line, and anyone from the Midlands is told simply to pick a side.
Though this culture shock was unexpected, it didn’t take long for me to establish my position on the issue of North vs South. While I once brushed over and hardly acknowledged my birthplace, I am now fiercely proud and have become prepared to defend Yorkshire to the death; especially, it seems, on any occasion involving the consumption of alcohol. The stigma surrounding regional accents can dramatically affect the decisions we make. Sky News anchor Kay Burley, for example, trained herself to speak Received Pronunciation using a tape recorder. Encouraged to adopt the Queen’s English for fear of otherwise lacking integrity and respectability, she abandoned her Lancashire accent and disguised her roots.
In an ironic paradox, I’ve experienced a sort of identity crisis due to the fact my accent isn’t especially broad or recognisable. So I’m told my pronunciation of words is ‘wrong’ yet I’ve been accused of ‘sounding like a southerner’ too. My upbringing didn’t involve flat caps, greyhounds or miles of sheep-filled fields. But I remain protective over our drizzly weather, ‘scraps’ of fish and chips and use of ‘proper’ as a qualifier. Not to mention my body is practically 60% tea (Yorkshire, of course).
As for regional pride on campus, the Edinburgh University Northern Society, whose emblem is the majestic Angel of the North, aims to create a space for students to meet like-minded people and celebrate their culture. President Robin Dell said: ‘I think it’s easy to feel isolated as a Northerner- there’s not a lot of us. I only knew two or three before joining North Soc. It’s easier to make a community within the society because you immediately know you have something in common’.
The society is fairly new and its committee praises the ‘classic northern friendliness’ shown by its members, but were also quick to point out that North Soc is ‘definitely not a drinking society!’ Secretary Georgina Antill explains: ‘our philosophy is a very simple one: get together, have some fun and remember where you come from’. The struggles faced by Northerners on campus are likely to be universal. We may complain that the news here doesn’t compare to Look North, we miss gravy and the tap water just isn’t the same. But mostly we wear our background like a badge of honour. Whether we’re from Bradford or Brighton, dialects and customs should be perceived as symbols of regional identity which distinguish rather than divide us.
Image: CircaSassy via Flickr