At Language Log, Geoffrey Pullum writes of the Neil Entwistle case, citing this:
bq. Priscilla Matterazzo told Connolly that her daughter returned to Massachusetts with her husband and baby in part because, the affidavit said, “Neil would never amount to anything in England because of his accent: He was obviously a coal miner’s son from a working class background.”
Pullum writes that this would be inconceivable in the USA.
bq. I wish I could dismiss it as nonsense to say that having an accent that marks you out as being from a working-class home in Worksop, Nottinghamshire (near Sherwood Forest, in the middle of England) might alter your employment prospects in a downward direction. But it is undeniable that if you elide initial [h] and pronounce putt the same way you pronounce put, speakers of British English will instantly draw a few conclusions about your likely intelligence level, reliability, morals, etc.
I suppose in the USA you don’t put a photo on your job application (unlike Germany) and you don’t mention your race, but ‘black English’ on the phone would not lead to such conclusions?
Anyway, there’s no doubt that people are aware of class in Britain. Things have changed a bit – I know some people who, forty years ago and maybe even less, learnt received pronunciation and gave up their regional accents. At that time, you scarcely heard an ‘accent’ on TV. Nowadays, watered-down Cockney or Estuary English would not even indicate class.
Meanwhile, back to the Entwistle case – when Neil Entwistle turned up in England in January, followed by Massachusetts prosecutors, it was at first said that he was not being sought in connection with the murder of his wife and child, but later he was described as ‘a person of interest’. I take this to be the US equivalent of ‘helping the police with their enquiries’.
Person of interest is on the Lake Superior State University 2006 List of Banished Words, and I’d only just met it:
bq. PERSON OF INTEREST Found within the context of legal commentary, but seldom encountered at cocktail parties. People with guns want to talk with you. Melissa Carroll from Greensboro, NC. Does this mean the rest of us are too boring to deal with? Patricia Johnson from Mechanicsville, Va.