How Emotion is Expressed in Accent

In Britain social class has an impact on how emotion is expressed in speech and communication. Upper class people and working class people do not express emotion in their voices in the same way.

A traditional idea of Britishness is that British people are reserved and distant. There is an expression ‘keeping a stiff upper lip,’ which means keeping calm in an emotional situation and not letting it affect you. Even if you are under a lot of pressure, and feeling very stressed, it is not considered proper to show how you are feeling. However, this response to emotional situations was always a middle class and upper class value. The more posh you were, the less you showed your emotions.


Working class people were always a lot more in touch with their emotions and were able to express them in public. They did not have the ‘stiff upper lip’ value. One very big difference between the classes is that working class people had much closer and more affectionate bonds with their children. They were not as distant as upper class people who weren’t always directly involved with parenting their children, who were sent to boarding schools.

However, being more in touch with your emotions can and does have a negative side to it. Negative, disruptive emotions such as anger will be expressed, even in public. Whereas an upper class person would either try to hide their anger or express it indirectly, a working class person will let you know about it.

When it comes to accent. The difference in the way the two classes express emotion can be heard.

Conservative R.P. speakers give the impression of being cold and removed from other people. They lack any warmth in their voice. This is because they are detached from their emotions and make all decisions in the harsh, cold logic of the mind. This kind of accent suggests a lack of empathy with others.

Working class speakers may have the opposite problem. Too much unrestrained emotion is easily apparent in the way they speak. It can make some British people uncomfortable. That’s because it goes against the middle class / upper class value that emotion should not be expressed openly, especially in public.

The subconscious reason that working class accents are so disfavoured in British society could in fact be due to the unrestrained way emotion is expressed in speech. Hearing too much emotion makes middle class and upper class people feel uncomfortable since they were programmed not to express it themselves when speaking. They were conditioned to be detached from their feelings. It may be that it isn’t actually the sound of the accent that people react to negatively, rather, it’s the stronger emotion that is present in speech.