Follow TV Tropes


Rich Language, Poor Language

Go To
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.

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.


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, particularly among socialites and the financial class. Almost any regional American accent can be pitched as the lower-class counterpart to this.
    • 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.
  • 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.
    • Advertisement:
    • In Scotland, upper-class characters will probably sound the same as upper-class English (with perhaps a slight lilt), but sometimes have Morningside (Edinburgh) or Kelvinside (Glasgow) accents (although 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:
    • Parisian bourgeois tend to frown upon/mock regional accents, which were associated with peasantry.
    • Slang that developed in the banlieues is typically associated with lower class.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Italy: Northern accents are posh; southern accents are uncouth.


    open/close all folders 

  • 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.

    Film — Animated 

  • In 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.
  • In 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.
  • In Heidi, Heidi's use of Swiss German makes her stand out in the wealthy Sesemann household, where everyone else speaks standard German.
  • In 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.
  • In 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.
  • In Snowpiercer, Minister Mason's heavy Yorkshire accent betrays her origins as a tail-dweller who managed to get promoted up-train; nearly everyone else up-train seems to have American or RP accents.
  • In Silence of the Lambs Hannibal Lecter notices FBI agent Clarisse 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 museaum 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 speeh 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • "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.

    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.

  • 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 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.

    Video Games 

    Real Life 
  • In the United States, African American Vernacular English (AAVE) 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 and Appalachian 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.
  • In the UK Oop North accents or Cockney accents from the East End are considered low-class compared to the London "Received Pronunciation" accent.
  • Romance languages like French, Spanish, and Italian 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.)

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: