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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Accent Elimination

Lately I have seen several signs like the one below for accent elimination.

I came to the US at a fairly young age so I do not have a thick accent. But would you do it if you had a pronounced accent? It also made me think about the heirarchy of accents. These signs are clearly targeting immigrants from less affluent areas of the world such as India and China. You would never have a British person calling to eliminate their oh so royal accents... Americans are so gullible, they think anyone with a British accent has a tiara in their drawer or something. Look at the Beckhams... overrated and overpriced. But such is reality, I am 100% certain that a person with a British accent will be treated much better than a person with an Indian or a Chinese accent at a nice hotel or a nice restaurant or a nice department store.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not disagreeing with your heirarchy analysis, but a big part of the problem is also that people have a harder time understanding english spoken with an Indian or Chinese or, god forbid, Japanese accent. In fact, with the possible exception of a French accent, I think all other accented english - german, swiss, italian, etc. - is considered "undesirable," despite the generally fuzzy feelings associated with those countries. -J

Cat said...

You do make a valid point. However, partly maybe it's because Chinese/Indian accents are more difficult to understand... but partly I think it's also because people associate certain accents with being poor whereas accents such as French and Italian are considered cool and fun and European chic...

Cat said...

Also, Americans do go gaga over people with British accent. I remember there was an exchange student in high school, there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about him, but the students all went whoo and ahhed over him...

Anonymous said...

"...there was an exchange student in high school, there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about him, but the students all went whoo and ahhed over him..." hmmm... i can think of another person with a british accent to whom that description might apply. :)

Cat said...

haha, hmmmm, does that person happen to have the initial M? Well, M, for your information, we don't go whoo and ahh over your accent, hehe...it's all for your own good, you know, we don't want you to get an inflated ego...:-P

Pei said...

Why would a Brit eliminate his accent? His native language is already English.

I'm also not so sure about your last 100% assertion, especially in metropolitan cities. Poor service is usually a result of rudeness on the part of the customer or an inability for staff to understand their English, not something as blatant as flat out racism.

People are certainly elitist, but it's much more nuanced than accent alone. Let's face it, your average little old British couple on a vacation in the US is more likely to smile, say hi, tip well, and be overall polite to hotel staff than an average middle-aged Chinese couple. It's easy to call others racist, harder to examine what the Chinese as a culture do and don't value.

PS. Japanese really do have the worst accents.

Cat said...

I disagree. I don't think poor service is usually rudeness on part of the customer. I do think there is racism. Even if the British are much better mannered than the Chinese, it doesn't permit the staff to ethnic/racial profile customers and treat one set better than the others. I agree it is more nuanced. But being someone who has encountered discrimination (mostly by fellow Chinese) ever since I was little, I am much more aware of this issue. When I was little, I was discriminated against because I didn't initially speak Shanghainese and the Shanghainese looked down upon people from other provinces, same thing happened in Hong Kong, if I spoke English I was well treated and if I spoke Mandarin, it's another story. And also Taipei, T's dad told me that if I had gone to southern Taiwan, most likely I'd be discriminated against due to my Mainland accent. Even the Brits themselves admitted in an article in the BBC that they find it funny how much better they are treated in the US, even if they are "nobodies" in Britain.

pei said...

How often have you been blatantly discriminated against in the United States? My point was that racism in the states usually takes more subtle forms than "Ma'am, we don't serve your kind here." Americans, at least in metropolitan areas, have learned to hide their racist tendendies. "I just can't understand her English" is much more common than "OMG, get that chink out."

I might agree with you that racism among Chinese takes on more blatant forms. But you were attacking the British and Americans, and then saying most of the racism you've encountered was in China.

Again, there are a lot of things deeply wrong with Chinese society that we should examine before attacking everyone else.

pei said...

Also, I'm about 99.9% sure that sign is targetting Latinos, not Chinese or Indians.

Cat said...

Of course there is racism in China as well and the rest of Asia... I guess the point of this post is to point out that certain accents are valued more than others for no reason other than people associate the accent with high class or being chic... I feel that if there is a linguistically talented person and he is fluent in British and American English and he can also do a perfect imitation of Chinese/Japanese or Indian accented English, I strongly feel that he will be treated the best when he is speaking British accented English because we associate that with sophistication and class...

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