A touch of class


The BBC has just reported the results of a survey, the largest of its kind ever undertaken, on the thorny subject of class. That is, the social structure here in the UK and which sector we all belong to.

According to this survey, there are seven different classes that we can belong to – highlighting the changing social picture in the UK. The BBC has also provided a quick questionnaire to help us all identify which of these we belong to. Apparently, I belong to the ‘technical middle class’, which sounds quite grand for a publishing professional. However, this also means I am ‘distinguished by social isolation and cultural apathy’. Not such a positive description – I think the questionnaire might need some work!

Back when such things were simple, there were three classes – upper, middle and lower (or ‘working’). The upper class owned everything, the middle class managed everything and the working class produced everything. As I said, simple.

Well, not really. There are always layers of complexity. One of these is the way people talk. Regional accents abound in the UK and have often been used to help identify class. If you had a strong accent there was a presumption that you were lower class. How you pronounced words such as ‘bath’, ‘scone and, indeed, ‘class’ was often used to help identify your social status. This approach, thankfully, has died out in most aspects of our daily lives. So, although ‘received pronunciation‘ is still considered the standard in many situations – listen to the dictionary entries above – regional accents are now heard and widely accepted.

When asked directly, most people say they are not interested in class and don’t consider themselves to be in a particular class. However, over 160,000 British citizens responded to the BBC survey, suggesting we might all still want to know where we ‘belong’.

Has the issue of class ever come up with your students? Perhaps your students have their own ideas of class definitions – they may even have suggestions for improving the survey!


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