The language that politicians use is often meticulous and calculated, employed very specifically by all parties as a way to sway votes, denigrate the opposition, and bolster their own standing. But it seems that the politics these people subscribe to might not just be affecting the language they use, it could also be influencing the way they speak.
It was thought that as the UK Parliament is based in London (which you probably already know is in the south of England), when politicians from other regions of the country are elected to become Members of Parliament (MPs), and move south for work, they should start to adopt the Southern English accent. It was expected that this would be particularly true of Scottish politicians moving to the capital and losing their native brogue.
This would make sense, as many people with all sorts of different languages and cultures have noted. When someone moves into an area with different accents, they will frequently start to adopt the accent of where they have moved to, although this is generally only true if you speak the same language to begin with. The degree of the aping varies dramatically, but the odd linguistic sound frequently slips in.
To test whether or not this was genuinely the case with Scottish MPs working in the UK Parliament, researchers looked at the speeches of 10 Scottish politicians over the period of one year. Publishing their results in the journal Language Variation and Change, they looked specifically at vowels and their acoustic quality, searching for any factors that might be influencing them.
Interestingly, the team found that while there were no correlations between accent and social class, or where the politician may have grown up, they did find one between how they spoke and their political party. It turns out that those who belonged to the Scottish National Party (SNP) pronounced the vowel sound in “cat” much lower than those from the Scottish Labour Party.
What is interesting here is that this lower “cat” vowel has previously been associated with “anti-institutional” attitudes in Scotland, something that with their strong desire for an independent Scotland is a prominent mentality within the SNP. The researchers also suggest that by maintaining a strong Scottish accent, they cement their political identity and further distance themselves from the Conservatives.
The authors argue that despite being ignored for so long, as social class and political party are strong indicators and drivers of accent, they should now be included in any new studies looking into accent variation.