“I can tell you are educated,” my dance teacher said to me one day when I was asking her for college ideas. I looked at her quizzically. “You talk like you’re educated; I can tell you go to a private school.” That was the first I had ever heard of anyone talking educated. After she said that it made sense to me. All of my friends from my private school talked like me. Everyone in the neighborhood and at dance had a type of New York accent. I was one of the few at dance without the typical New York accent.
I had never realized how not having that accent made me educated. I had just figured that since my dad was not from my area, I talked like him instead of like my mom. I thought about it more, and realized that my mom was less educated than him and had not gone to a good private school in Connecticut like I had.
According to linguist Robert Pooley there are different levels of language. He wrote about an illiterate level and a level for your region. There is another level where you make someone use proper English, so they sound educated.
Forcing someone to speak at another “level” is probably not necessary. People grow up speaking a certain way because of where they live. If a person wants to become more educated they can change the way they speak. It may help someone who is going to be giving presentations, speeches, or acting on stage. Some people however will never need to use those skills and they may never even notice that they do not speak proper English.
Moving to go to college in the Boston area was quite a shock language-wise. I was hearing words like “bubbla” and “wicked.” My roommate had the thickest Boston accent I have ever heard in on any Bostonian. I could barely understand her at first. That same roommate also failed out freshman year. She was clearly not as smart or educated as me.
I have also met plenty of people from the Boston area that do not have thick accents at all. From my observations the thicker the person’s accent is the less smart they are. However, I would not try and make someone I knew talk like an educated person unless they wanted to.
Depending on where the person is from their accent might be really thick even if they are smart. I have a friend from Long Island who has a slight accent. Everyone she knows from outside the New York metro area thinks she has a huge accent. I do not think she does because I know plenty of people with a much thicker accent. Someone from around the Boston area might think she is less educated because they might think her accent is really thick. I do not think her accent is thick, so I would
place her as slightly more educated.
Accents seem to be inevitable in places like New York and that just makes it easier to tell where people are from. I find it fascinating, and often wish I had a thicker accent, so people really knew where I was from.
I think whether or not people realize it they tend to clump people who talk in similar ways together. A very educated businessman may not clearly understand someone from the heart of Brooklyn. There can be people from Brooklyn who are very successful businessmen and have accents, but it might be to their disadvantage. They might try to drop the accent. In that case I might advise a person to try and drop an accent. If I knew my friend wanted to be an actress I might also try and help her drop her New York accent. That way she could be more versatile and speak the proper English that many actors are expected to speak.
Most people speak a certain way because of where they are from. How they talk is part of who they are and if their way of speaking was changed it would change who they were. It may be appropriate to insist someone use Proper Standard American English for one’s own benefit in the work world. However, a person’s accent may not always elucidate how educated a person is.