I met Afroza on one of the recent hot summer days, but we stayed cool in a coffee shop basement. Afroza grew up in Bow in a large Bangladeshi family of eight siblings and now lives in Shoreditch with her family. Afroza would call her accent ‘a bit Cockney, a bit posh’. It’s the latter that has caused her problems: ‘I’ve been judged and bullied for that many times.’ Apparently, her accent doesn’t match her appearance. ‘With a lot of the people from my background, when they hear me speaking they would automatically assume that I am not Bengali. I know it’s because of the way that I speak. They expect me to be less posh, more street – but in a Bengali way.’
Her accent was influenced mainly by her education and her work. Growing up, she spent most of her time with her older sisters, who ‘had a big impact on my learning and were always encouraging me’. ‘We had a library on our doorstep and we absolutely loved going there.’ She was and still is ‘a bookworm’ and talking street ‘didn’t appeal to me’.
Before taking on a more local job, she worked in a hospital in the City which has also influenced her accent and made it ‘more professional’. ‘A lot of the people in my community haven’t worked in the City and didn’t really have that experience. So when I speak differently, they automatically think that I am different from them’.
Her own children are in primary school and especially the younger ones sometimes speak ‘street’ to her. ‘My kids have called me ‘bro’, but I don’t think they’re conscious of it’, she says with a laugh. She is fine with her daughter talking ‘street’ and as long as ‘it’s a phase’ and doesn’t impact on her studies, ‘I wouldn’t discourage it. It’s just a little bit of fun with their friends.’
Even though she is wary of her own children speaking with a street accent, she says ‘I know it can be used for songs and poetry and stuff like that and that’s different. You can actually reach out to a lot of youngsters about important issues using language like that because they’d understand it’.