As I was listening to an old episode of A Way With Words today (as I’m often wont to do), someone called in with a question regarding pronunciation that I wanted to learn a bit more about. While searching online, though, I came across a website which offers courses to reduce one’s accent.
As soon as I saw the title, I felt a little sick. As I read the description on the site, I felt even worse.
These courses are offered by a person who holds a Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology, and is certified as a Teacher of Students with Speech and Language Disabilities. She also works as an accent coach for actors. If anyone is qualified to teach someone how to “reduce” their native accent, she is.
However, I’ve always felt that there’s something beautiful about the rich tapestry of dialects and pronunciations we have in the United States. I happen to work for a company that often hires people from outside the country, as well as many resident aliens. As a result, every day I communicate with individuals with a wide variety of accents. I’ve gotten so used to them, that I’m starting to be able to pick out regional accents among some of my coworkers from the same country.
I can understand that folks would be frustrated when they’re not understood. I can see how that might make someone want to reduce their accent. I can also see how the desire to fit in might compell someone to use a service like this.
But I feel that most of what drives this desire is not in the individuals with the accents, but rather those around them. I think it’s the attitudes of locals that is the impetus. Some people look down on others because of the way they talk.
For some folks with accents not native to the area in which they live, I’m sure it’s simply a desire not to stick out. I’m sure many of them regularly hear “Oh, what an interesting accent. Where are you from?” far more often than they’d like.
The world is becoming a smaller place in many ways. I think it’s way past time that all of us stop treating people who are different than us as “exotic”, or less-than.
I also dislike the idea that people should have to speak “Standard American English”, as if that’s an actual thing, just in order to fit in. And I feel like, as Americans, we lose so much of what we are by pushing the idea that people should all talk the same.
I’m finding myself unusually upset about this. But, maybe I’m being overly-sensitive, especially for someone who’s rarely been on the receiving end of accent discrimination. Do y’all think this is a reasonable way for people to assimilate into a new culture?