The former leader of London boarding school Harrow has said that private school pupils adopt mockney accents in an attempt to seem less posh as adults

Written by Romana Essop
First year, fangirl and fresh crep fanatic. Pop-punker, probably at the merch stand. Also admire alliterative phrases. English and Creative Writing.
Last updated
Images by Henry Lawford

According to previous headteacher Barnaby Lenon, pupils leave and are keen to hide their involvement because of its associations with the upper class. Lenon states that people do not want to appear upper-class as ‘being posh these days is not a good thing.’

Lenon made the comments in light of research by Graeme David, a professional research fellow in humanities at the University of Buckingham. Davis found that prep school language has its origins in Cockney rhyming slang.

As a result, in adulthood, former private school pupils are driven to shift their accents towards those associated with middle or lower classes, such as Cockney. Lenon claimed that most pupils speak ‘estuary English’ in later years of school and in adulthood.

This variation of language can be regarded as a mixture of Received Pronunciation – what many may consider a ‘posh’ London accent – and Cockney. It incorporates features such as dropping ‘t’s whilst maintaining the pronunciation of ‘th’ in ‘think’, for example, allowing it to be dubbed ‘mockney.’

Lenon continued, saying that this language can be seen in the speech of many past and present politicians who adopt these mockney accents. Lenon sees this as an attempt to appear more down-to-earth and relatable to the general public. For instance, Tony Blair used glottal stops (dropping ‘t’s in words like ‘bottle’) during his campaign, particularly whilst around those whose language features were the same.

Language theorists have noted similar changes for decades, with Howard Giles coining the phenomenon ‘convergence’ in the 1970s. This acknowledged speakers’ shift of language to match those around them and claimed that this was an effort to be accepted in a particular social group.

Regional accents reportedly face discrimination too. In 2017, it was found that many young people in particular felt discriminated against for their accents and would attempt to disguise them during telephone interviews, sometimes using voice distortion apps to help.

Two first-year students from the University of Birmingham both agreed that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to change your accent, providing your ‘new’ choice is not offensive. One of the students, who was born and bred in Yorkshire, admitted to occasionally trying to sound more like a Received Pronunciation speaker in preparation for job interviews. Another students insisted that they ‘would not judge someone based on their accent’ and said ‘you should be proud of where you’re from.’