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Rich Language, Poor Language

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Eliza: The rine in Spine sties minely on the pline.
Henry: The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.
Eliza: Di'n't I sye that?
Henry: No, Eliza, you didn't "sye" that. You didn't even "say" that. Now every night before you get into bed, where you used to say your prayers, I want you to say "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain" fifty times. You'll learn to get much further with the Lord if you learn not to offend His ears.

In any work with a cast that includes both slobs and snobs, one of the quickest ways to distinguish one from the other is to assign each group a certain accent or dialect: one for the slobs that's rougher and more regionally specific, and one for the snobs that's more carefully pronounced and indicative of the economic and social capital of their country. In a drama, especially a Period Piece, this trope can be played for authenticity to the setting. In a comedy, it can be Played for Laughs in order to set up a character as an Upper-Class Twit or a Lower-Class Lout. In a Pygmalion Plot, a person with a "slob" dialect is typically encouraged to lose it in favor of the "snob" one.

A socioeconomic sub-trope of Separated by a Common Language. Often reinforced by Accent Adaptation, when the creator replaces the original work's Rich Language/Poor Language pattern with a corresponding pattern that viewers in their own country would understand. When separate languages or dialects are involved, it's Noble Tongue. In Real Life, linguists call this phenomenon "diglossia."

Depending on the setting in question, this trope has several geographic variants:

  • United States:
    • Nationally, the most common upper-class accent is the Prep accent associated with New York City and New England (especially Connecticut), particularly among socialites and the financial class. Almost any regional American accent can be pitched as the lower-class counterpart to this. Newscasters favor "neutral," Upper Midwest-style accents.
    • At one time, an even higher-payload snob signifier was the British-influenced "Mid-Atlantic" accent made famous by the likes of Katharine Hepburn, William F. Buckley Jr., George Plimpton, and Margaret Dumont. This was an entirely artificial accent taught in prep schools; in the words of the professor and actor Dudley Knight, "its earliest advocates bragged that its chief quality was that no Americans actually spoke it unless educated to do so." The decline of the Old Money White Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment after World War II took the accent with it, even among the rich. Part of the reason for its creation though was it apparently carried better over the then-new medium of radio.
    • There are also examples of this trope within certain regions, states, or cities. For example, in Boston, the Brahmin accent of the city's older and wealthier families could be contrasted with the working-class Irish-American Southies in the southern part of the city.
    • Given the prominence of racial issues in the U.S., the "lower class" accents are particularly associated with people of color, especially African-Americans, Hispanic people, and recent immigrants. (Note, however, that there is a distinctive refined "Bougie Black" accent—or rather accents, as it varies from community to community and has changed over time.) In works with mostly white casts, the accents of poor white Southerners and rural whites in general hold very similar connotations.
  • United Kingdom:
    • Upper-class characters speak with Received Pronunciation or a Home Counties accent. Working-class characters speak with Cockney accents, or with increasingly rougher accents the farther away they grew up from London and its environs.
    • In Scotland, upper-class characters will probably sound the same as upper-class English (with perhaps a slight lilt). They sometimes have Morningside (Edinburgh) or Kelvinside (Glasgow) accents, though these are often coded as "social climber, doesn't really talk like that". What most people think of as a Glaswegian accent is definitely working class, while a rural West Highland accent almost certainly marks you as a crofter whose family have been farming this land for generations.
  • France:
    • Rich language is associated with the neutral accent emulated by the Paris elite. Some language ticks may sound ridiculous and snobbish. For instance, the 'e prépausal' ('bonjour-in' instead of 'bonjour').
    • Slang and accents that developed in the banlieues are typically associated with lower class.
    • Regional accents, words or dialects are associated with people from outside Paris; while this does not necessarily mean that they are poor, it can signify that they lack the cultural background and political connections of the Paris elite.
    • Extending from above, accents from other French speaking countries will quickly give an outsider, 'poor unrefined' immigrant vibe with (often) racist undertones to boot.
  • Ireland: In Dublin, middle- and upper-class characters speak Mainstream Dublin or New Dublin while lower-class characters speak Common Dublin.
  • Canada:
    • In English-speaking Canada, wealthier characters will most likely have a Toronto or B.C. accent, and lower-class characters will sound more like hosers.
    • In Quebec, the upper class speaks Radio-Canada French while the lower class speaks with the rougher joual or "street French" accent.
    • Historically, "Canadian dainty" had the same connotations that the Mid-Atlantic accent did in the US, with a very similar British-inspired sound, and declined in the latter half of the 20th century for the same reasons.
  • Australia: Both the city and country variants of the "broad" Australian accent are considered lower-class, as opposed to the "cultivated" accent associated with Sydney and the southeast.
  • Japan:
    • In Tokyo, the Yamanote dialect is typically associated with the upper class while the Shitamachi or Edo dialect is associated with the lower class.
    • Outside of Tokyo, the Tohoku Regional Accent of northeast Honshu tends to indicate that the character is a hick from the boonies.
    • The Kansai Regional Dialect can go either way depending on the exact locale.
      • Those with an Osakan dialect are often depicted as having an eye for commerce due to Osaka's history as a major Merchant City — the stereotypical Osakan will greet you with "Have you made money today?" This in turn tends to designate them as more lower-class, especially if the setting is feudal Japan where merchants occupied the lowest rung of the social ladder. English-language dubs of licensed anime tend to translate an Osaka accent into either Houston or a Brooklyn Rage New York.
      • In contrast, an accent from nearby Kyoto sounds posh and refined, often reserved for elegant females as the accent sounds more feminine. Again, historical background comes into play — Kyoto was the residence of the Emperor for many centuries until the Meiji era and was generally considered "above the fray" of the ruthless politicking among rival samurai clans. In English-language dubs such characters often have their accents adapted into a Southern Belle.
  • Philippines:
    • English is already considered a language of class among Filipinos—legacy of a century of American colonialism, neoimperialism and indirect cultural influence—and so, upper-class or at least aspirational English accents in the Philippines tend to follow American accents and intonation, particularly Los Angeles or at least California accents due to the Hollywood influence. Smooth American accents are also a standard taught to the many, many Filipino call-centre workers and are also commonly heard among Filipino celebrities. Working-class Filipino English, of course, tends to have strong, hard accents influenced by the native languages of the speakers in question, like Tagalog, Bisaya, Kapampangan, Ilokano, etc.
  • Italy: Northern accents are posh; southern accents are uncouth.
    • More complicated, depending on times and regions. For instance, there are at least two specific accents of Naples: one popular and dialectal (if not spoken dialect tout court), one cultured, in Italian but characteristic (and elegant).
    • Moreover, in the Commedia dell'Arte, servants such as Zanni and Arlecchino are typically northern and with very strong accents.
    • In general, the main idea is that lower-class characters are speaking vernacular (one of the many ones; there are more than 30, with local variations) while Italian is associated with the upper class. Mostly.
    • Regarding the first item, in some epochs there has been a strong migration from the southern to the northern regions. At present, the demographic trend is changing (due to increased immigration from abroad).


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    Fan Works 
  • Triptych Continuum: Rarity's fake accent, used in place of her parents' considerably less posh one. The rest of the Bearers have concluded she pretty much wove it out of whole cloth: nopony on the continent matches her intonations. Tricks Of The Trade Show indicates it was created in an effort to be more distinctive among the rookie designer herd.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Akeelah and the Bee: The first order Dr. Larabee gives Akeelah when mentoring her for the district spelling bee is to "leave the ghetto talk outside." She immediately gets mad at him for criticizing the way she naturally speaks.
  • Crazy Rich Asians: the accent of a character—and therefore their social status—depends on where they were educated (the UK is better than the US) and where their family's fortunes were first made (pre-revolutionary mainland China is better than any other part of Asia). Old Money characters like the Youngs speak with a mixture of Mandarin and British accents, while Nouveau Riche characters like the Gohs speak with American and Singlish accents.
  • Heidi: Heidi's use of Swiss German makes her stand out in the wealthy Sesemann household, where everyone else speaks standard German.
  • It Takes Two: Amanda, who grew up in an orphanage, has a thick Brooklyn accent, while Alyssa, who grew up attending boarding schools and living in a variety of upstate mansions, enunciates every word with the utmost care. At the end of the film, by which time the girls have been impersonating each other for several weeks, they sound much more similar - Alyssa's enunciation has softened somewhat, whilst Amanda's accent has definitely become far less noticeable; though they are still not yet quite the same.
  • Nanny McPhee: When Lady Adelaide Stitch takes custody of Evangeline, whom she believes to be one of her nephew's children but is in fact the children's scullery maid, proper elocution is among the major lessons she imparts. Arguably a subversion, as Evangeline was always fairly well-spoken, and those lessons go out the window when the farce is revealed.
  • Richie Rich: Richie's sandlot friends — whose parents work for a local factory that Richie helps save — speak with streetwise accents, while Richie's business school friends speak with Prep accents.
  • Silence of the Lambs: Hannibal Lecter notices FBI agent Clarice tries to conceal her West Virginia redneck accent.

  • The works of Leo Tolstoy highlight this:
    • In Anna Karenina, all of the upper-class, well-to-do characters intersperse their Russian with French as part of their aristocratic etiquette, as French was seen as a more refined and romantic language. Notably, none of the muhziks Levin works with ever speak French.
    • In War and Peace, the socialites of St. Petersburg do the same, even referring to each other by French versions of the Russian names they were born with.
    • Which makes it difficult to read in translation, as the original passed seamlessly from Russian to French, where in translation you have to pick up clues as to which language they're speaking (it makes a difference).
  • In the Aubrey-Maturin series of novels, the RP of the officers (who tend to be born upper-class) versus the Cockney-like accent that the ship's company tends to adopt over time.
  • In The Belgariad, poorer Arends have the "Wacite brogue", basically a Scottish or Irish accent, while the Mimbrate Knights use Flowery Elizabethan English. Ironically, Wacune was the wealthiest duchy in Arendia back before its capital, Vo Wacune, was razed by the Asturians.
  • In The Devil Wears Prada, Miranda Priestly has carefully cultivated an RP to replace the rough East End accent of her poor upbringing.
  • In The Hunger Games, the citizens of the wealthy Capitol have an odd accent characterized by a high pitch, clipped words, and a tightly puckered mouth. In the films, the accents of the citizens of the twelve districts are neutral by comparison.
  • In Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Tess and her peasant family, plus the milkmaids at Talbothays Dairy, are written with distinctly West Country vocal tics (ex. 'ee instead of you). Upper-class characters like the Clares and Alec D'Urberville are written with no such tics.
  • Discworld sometimes emphasises the language of both rich and poor, particularly upper class characters are "that posh you can barely understand [them]" (like the museum curator complaining about a "burglareah" in Thud!); lower class characters are sometimes given a Cockney feel (in Morpork) or a rural English dialect (in Lancre and the Chalk); and upwardly-mobile characters like Mrs Whitlow talk h'in h'a manner nobody h'else does, as they h'overcompensate. Everyone else (which includes most of the working folk and most of the nobs) is assumed to be talking "normally" — wizards, while generally considered posh, mostly don't have notable speech patterns apart from Ridcully's country gentleman "huntin', shootin' and fishin'" accent.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Crown: The heightened received pronunciations of the Royal Family and their courtiers versus a number of working-class accents in several episodes, notably "Aberfan" (set mostly in South Wales) and "Imbroglio" (featuring Prime Minister Ted Heath in a heated debate with Yorkshire-born mining unionist Arthur Scargill), both in season 3.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Snowmen," Clara, who naturally speaks in a cockney accent, lives a double life as both a barmaid in a tavern and a governess for a wealthy family. She uses an RP accent when at work as a governess to hide her working-class origins, though she occasionally uses her real accent (or her "secret voice") to amuse the children.
    • When Rose first meets the Doctor, she notices he sounds a lot like some bloke from Oop North. The Doctor defends it by stating that lots of planets have an Oop North.
  • Downton Abbey:
    • The RP of the Crawley family (plus Carson the butler) and other aristocrats versus the Yorkshire accent of Downton's servants and townsfolk.
    • At Duneagle Castle in Scotland, the RP of the MacClare family versus the Highland accents of their servants.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air:
    • Will's West Philadelphia-born and -raised Ebonics versus Carlton's Prep. In the episode "Clubba Hubba," Will successfully (at first) imitates Carlton's accent in order to impress the notoriously judgmental father of an attractive girl at the country club.
    • Uncle Phil's Prep versus the Southern twangs of his North Carolina-born parents.
  • In the Friends episode "The One With Ross's Inappropriate Song", where Phoebe learns that Mike's parents are rich, they have New England accents. Phoebe attempts one to fit in, until Mike asks her to stop.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The "Andal" accent (RP) of the southern regions of Westeros (except for Dorne) versus the "First Men" accents (northern English and Scottish) of the North.
    • In the capital of King's Landing, the RP of the Red Keep and the merchant class versus the rougher accents in the poor neighborhood of Flea Bottom.
    • "A Man Without Honor": When Arya, a noble daughter, is hiding undercover as a serving girl, Lord Tywin notices that her language doesn't quite match her backstory:
      Tywin: Girl... "m'lord". Lowborn girls say "m'lord", not "My Lord". If you're going to pose as a commoner, you should do it properly.
    • Something of a running joke throughout the series involves Ser Davos Seaworth; born a peasant and rising up through service to various nobles, he is frequently corrected on his improper uses of grammar (to the point where he actually starts doing the same to others in later seasons).
  • Keeping Up Appearances: Hyacinth the Social Climber works hard at her Received Pronunciation to cover her naturally Midlands accent, which nevertheless can slip through when she's flustered.
  • Loki (2021): Loki grew up as a prince and speaks "upper-class" posh English like all Asgardians from previous films. Unlike him, Sylvie speaks with a less prestigious local British accent (Nottingham, to be precise) to reflect her relative lack of education and life on the run.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: The Elves and the Numenorians use the more elevated RP accent while the Southlanders use the rougher (northern English accents. Numenorians see themselves superior to the "low-men" from the Southlands.
  • M*A*S*H: Charles Emerson Winchester III's Boston Brahmin accent and tendency towards flowery language contrasts him very sharply from the rest of the 4077th's complement, particularly when paired with the working-class accents (and more straight-forward vocabulary) of Klinger or Rizzo.
  • Poldark: The RP of the landed gentry versus the strong and barely intelligible Cornish accent of the mining class.
  • Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp: The preppy snobs at Camp Tigerclaw speak with an exaggerated posh Connecticut accent that sounds almost English, while the heroic Jewish slobs at Camp Firewood have standard American accents.

  • Discussed in "Outfit" by the Drive-By Truckers, for the sake of "authenticity." For best results, sing it with the thickest drawl you can muster.
    Don't call what you're wearing an outfit
    Don't ever say your car is broke
    Don't worry 'bout losing your accent
    'Cause a Southern man tells better jokes
  • "Throw the R Away" by The Proclaimers laments that Scots are encouraged to suppress their natural accents in order to succeed in other parts of Britain.

  • Cabin Pressure:
    • In "Edinburgh", Mr Birling's poshness conceals his Welshness, which has plot significance.
      Martin: He's not Welsh, how can he be Welsh? He's English. He sounds more English than the Queen!
      Arthur: Posh Welsh. They sound like us.
    • In "Helsinki", Carolyn's sister Ruth has a strong Oop North accent in contrast to Carolyn's milder accent. As Carolyn breaks down under Ruth's constant criticism, her accent starts to revert.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay:
    • The war-torn rural province of Ostland has a distinct local accent, featuring plenty of odd pauses and Kislevarin loan words, that's stereotypically associated with poverty elsewhere in the Empire.
    • The heartland province of Reikland has a local accent that's associated with wealth and power in-universe. Though the local peasants don't see much of either, well-off people often play it up with lessons in elocution.
      Averlander Merchant: Stuck-up poseurs, that's what Reiklanders are, with their oh-so-elegant ways and their perfect speaking.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Translation Convention gives the orks low-class cockney accents, as they were envisioned as particularly stupid Football Hooligans IN SPACE!. Freebootaz, who are Space Pirates, use Talk Like a Pirate as well. And then there's Kaptin Bluddflagg, who occasionally goes Irish.
  • Exalted has two examples in High Realm vs Low Realm and Riverspeak vs Forest-tongue: in the former case, High Realm is used in all official business within the Scarlet Dynasty while Low Realm is used by uneducated commoners; in the latter case, Riverspeak evolved in the more bourgeoisie cities of the Scavenger Lands from Forest-tongue, spoken by various jungle and forest tribes farther east. Both sets of languages are mutually intelligible.

  • Linda Monroe from Black Friday speaks in an exaggerated mid-Atlantic accent, pronouncing "Cinnabon" as "SEEN-ee-bon" and emphasizing the "h" in "why" and the like, befitting her status as a Rich Bitch. All the other characters speak in a "standard" Midwestern accent, save for Wiley's genteel Southern drawl and Gary's New Yawk accent.
  • The plot of My Fair Lady—derived from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion—and its film adaptation focuses on the poor, lower-class, Cockney-accented Eliza learning to speak "proper" English and pass herself off as an upper-class lady.
    • Zigzagged in the Israeli version, Gvirti Hanava. The sound Higgins teaches Eliza to make properly is a uvular r, which is used in two contexts: on stage and by Israelis whose native language is Arabic and whose speech is considered low-class. A possibly apocryphal story has a child at the theatre, hearing Eliza finally get the sound —"Yarad barad bidrom Sfarad ba'arev" [Hail fell in the south of Spain in the evening]—asking why Eliza is speaking like a cleaning lady.
  • In Les Misérables, the lower-class characters tend to speak with rough, slang-filled speech patterns (in British productions usually enhanced by actual Cockney accents) while the upper-class characters use more refined poetic language. Even single word choices reflect this difference: for example, in "Attack on Rue Plumet," the street characters refer to Éponine's scream as a "scream," while Marius, Cosette and Valjean call it a "cry." This is difference is also used in the characterization of Fantine, who is initially refined and well-spoken, but whose grammar declines ("I never did no wrong!") after she turns to prostitution.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • In Daughter for Dessert, Cecilia, Lainie, and Saul have dialogue that is significantly more polished than that used by, say, the protagonist or Mortelli.

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Both lampshaded and mocked in City of Walls and Secrets. When Toph declares that the rest of Team Avatar doesn’t have the manners to blend in at a high-society party in Ba Sing Se, Aang and Sokka attempt to prove her wrong: They adopt what they assume to be dignified language and mannerisms, only to fail miserably and have Toph say they would be lucky to pass as busboys.
  • Family Guy: In "One if by Clam, Two if by Sea", Stewie takes new neighbor Eliza Pinchley — a clear Expy of Eliza Doolittle— under his wing and teaches her to speak properly. She manages up until she wets herself, because she's still a toddler, causing an Accent Relapse in front of everyone.
  • The Simpsons: In A Tale of Two Springfields, Springfield is divided into two separate area codes by the phone company, with the upper-class side of town keeping their existing area code and the city's more blue-collar region being changed to the new one. Homer leads the half of Springfield with the new area code in seceding to form the town of New Springfield and the class divide between the two towns is soon established:
    Kent Brockman: [On a TV broadcast] As expected, New Springfield's bold experiment with slob rule is a disaster.
    Homer: Hey! The TV man is talking about us.
    Brockman: A study shows their crumbling economy is due to their lazy attitude and shoddy work.
    Homer: How the hell did they find that out?
    Brockman: Scientists say they're also less attractive physically, and while we speak in a well-educated manner, they tend to use lowbrow expressions like, "Oh, yeah?" and "C'mere a minute."
    Homer: Oh yeah? They think they're better than us, huh? Bart, c'mere a minute.
    Bart: You c'mere a minute!
    Homer: [shakes fist] Oh yeah?

    Real Life 
  • In the United States, African American Vernacular English (AAVE), popularly known as Ebonics, is considered vulgar and discouraged in schools. Black celebrities (except for rappers), politicians, and other higher-status folks tend to avoid using it. Deep South, Appalachian, and rural accents are the counterpart for lower class whites. Unless someone plans to make a living doing country music, they are encouraged to lose their accent.
    • Then you have people like Senator John Kenedy of Louisiana. Educated at Vanderbilt, University of Virginia Law School, and Magdalen College, Oxford, he speaks in a very pronounced folksy backwoods Southern accent, suiting his image as a "man of the people" conservative. Videos from earlier in his career, when he was a liberal Democrat, show him speaking with a standard upper-class accent.
  • Also in the US (particularly its urban areas), many have observed that regional accents (i.e. the New York accent and Southern accents) remain relatively noticeable among working class residents, while more financially comfortable and white collar communities are moving towards general Midwestern-style accents. This can partly be explained by the greater levels of geographic mobility by white collar workers compared to blue collar ones, meaning that someone working at an office is likely to be interacting extensively with non-natives of a region while physical laborers are likely to spend most of their time working around natives of that region.
  • In the UK Oop North accents or Cockney accents from the East End are considered low-class compared to the London "Received Pronunciation" accent.
    • In English, the names for large farm animals — sheep, oxen, cattle, kine, etc. — are derived from Anglo-Saxon. Meanwhile, the words for the meats carved from these animals derive from (Norman) French — beef, mutton, lamb, etc. This tells you all you need to know about which social class tended the animals and which social class got to eat them.
    • The page image is showing its age. Sick/Ill and Pudding/Sweet have swapped places, and Scotch is now almost universally used to refer to the whiskey, rather than the people or the country.
  • Romance languages like French, Spanish, Italian and Romanian were descended from the vulgar form of Latin spoken by soldiers, farmers, and other working-class Romans (who were being stationed in the far out places in the Empire), compared to the Latin spoken and written by the rulers in Rome.
  • In 19th century Russia, aristocrats were taught to read, write, and speak French as part of their upper-class etiquette, as speaking nothing but Russian was considered a trait of the poor muhziks and less well-to-do people. Amusingly, this resulted in the Russian aristocracy speaking neither proper French nor proper Russian, but instead an insular Russo-French jargon only they truly understood among them — see War and Peace for a classic example of this in literature.
  • Bulgaria's former Tzar, Simeon of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, picked up Bulgarian from his nannies who were from the capital's rural surroundings. He never managed to learn the standardised version of the language and his Catchphrase "vervaite mi" ("Trust me") instead of the standard "vyarvaite mi" became a joke among politically active people. It doesn't help that he spent his childhood and much of his adult life in Spain, married a Spanish aristocrat, and all of his grandchildren are now 3/4 Spanish by ancestry so most of his private conversations are probably in upper-class Spanish instead of Bulgarian (of any form).


Video Example(s):


"She Sounds Like a Fishwife!"

The staff of the fourth floor at Grace Brothers decide to have Miss Brahms' voice played over closed-circuit television in the store to increase sales. The only drawback is that her voice is considered "dead common".

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / RichLanguagePoorLanguage

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