Thursday, September 28, 2006

Do you have an accent?

The answer is always "yes." No matter who you are, no matter how you speak, the answer is always always "yes." Unless you some how have no form of communication, you always have an accent.

It always catches me off guard when people are incredibly prejudiced against a certain accent, and how accepted it is within normal conversation. Or when people profess that they don't have one. If you pronounce a word, you have an accent.

To me, having judgments about someone's accent is pretty much as marginalizing as having judgments about someone's skin color, or other physical features. Of course, I have different opinions about physical features; I mean, let's be honest. Who doesn't. But I feel that someone's way of speech, just like skin color, is something people don't have choices about. You grow up in an environment, and you speak the way people around you do. You process all this information and influence since the day you were born, so what options do you really have?

I suppose it's inappropriate to compare skin color with accents, because it is possible to make a choice about accents later on in life, but my point is... Why are such blatant stereotypes OK when it comes to the way of speech?

I wanted to make this point, because I think it does more damage than most people are aware of. A couple of years ago, they did a study on accent association with physical appearance, where they took a recorded speech made by a native English speaker, and played it while presenting two different photographs. One was a photograph of a white woman, and the other one was an Asian woman. The tape was played in front of two different groups, while one of the photographs was being shown, and each group was told that the woman in the picture was making that speech. When asked if the woman had a non-native accent, a significant amount of people from the Asian woman group said yes; despite the fact that it was the same recording.

They also did a similar study where they had a recording of a man speaking with a Southern accent, and another with a man speaking with what people call "Standard English." They were asked if either one made any grammatical mistakes, and a significant amount of people said that the Southern person did. When they played back the tape, the Southern man had made no grammatical mistakes.

So you see, people form opinions about important things, like someone's intelligence, based on these associations, and it's often unjust. My only wish is that people would stop and think about it some times, and give it some consideration.

You're probably wondering why I feel so high and mighty about this. You see, unfortunately, I probably would have the same opinion about these things with the majority of society if I weren't a Linguistics major in college. It was only through classes where I was able to discuss openly about these things. Hopefully, I would have thought about the cause and effect of accent prejudice at some point in time, if I hadn't been a linguistics major. But it would probably had been much later in life, or maybe even never. I probably make the same mistakes today about people's language, the way that those experiments had proven. Hell, I make speech mistakes all the time, but I can't control it. They don't call it verbal diarrhea for nothing.

In the end, we walk through the streets everyday passing judgments about other people. The important thing is to know that there are consequences to these judgments, and that it can be very hurtful and wrong. The wrongness of judgment is something you've been told since you were a child, but it's human nature. You're going to have an opinion about someone without knowing who they are. What I strive to do everyday is to stop and think about it, even just for a second. I hope you do too.

1 comment:

Louie said...

dude, my soccer team is full of brits/scotts/dutch, etc. and a couple of weeks ago we were playing against a team from Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center at the Presidio of Monterey (ironically) and this one fucker was so unbelievably racist towards the scottsman Derrick, making fun of his accent and shit. it was ridiculoso. But in the end, Derrick won the argument because he uses words like "Fo'Koff!!"