What is it about?

At first sight, chavs, a social persona representing contemptuous commentary on the English working class, show great similarity with Haagse Harry (Harry from The Hague, The Netherlands). Both are portrayed as wearing bling and tracksuits, and as displaying antisocial behaviour and laziness. But there is one big difference. Harry is a fictional character and a humorous emblem of working-class culture in The Hague, and he is afforded greater respect, status and prestige than chavs are in England. There is a statue of Harry (with a raised middle finger behind his back) in a popular square in the city centre of The Hague. Upon seeing the statue, English tourists would most likely identify Harry as a chav, though it is very hard to imagine a similar statue celebrating “chavviness” in England. There are also differences in the status and prestige afforded to the accents of chavs and Haagse Harry. Studying how Haagse Harry and supposed chavs in England, for instance, are presented in TV shows, books and on social media like TikTok, showed that there isn’t one single way of speaking that is “chavvy”. Instead, fictional chavs, as portrayed in popular television series, consistently use the accent of the place they are supposed to be from whether London, Yorkshire, Bristol, Manchester or anywhere else: chavs speak with a broad working-class accent. And they are often mocked for supposedly not speaking properly, coherently or articulately. Haagse Harry’s accent, by contrast, is strictly local. He speaks Broad Haags, a working-class version of the accent from The Hague. It is an accent that has positive connotations, even with people who are unlikely to speak it because they are not working class. The Dutch king, for instance, was known to imitate the accent when he was a boy. Broad Haags has actually been codified, so that it has its own spelling system which is used in local adverts, songs and publications such as comic books. There are even spelling bees for Broad Haags. Chav caricatures thus not only reveal class prejudice in England but also, embedded within that, prejudice and contempt for working-class accents. Though chavs and Haagse Harry would appear to be very similar figures, in actual reality they reveal different patterns of accent and class prejudice in England and The Netherlands.

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Why is it important?

Chavs and Haagse Harry may, at first glance, seem very similar figures, studying their representations has shown that they represent different patterns of accent and class prejudice between England and The Netherlands. Chav caricatures thus not only reveal class prejudice in England but also, embedded within that, prejudice and contempt for working-class accents.

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This page is a summary of: Haagse Harry, a Dutch chav from The Hague?, International Journal of Language and Culture, December 2021, John Benjamins, DOI: 10.1075/ijolc.21040.col.
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