DISCRIMINATION! Yes, it is insidious and everywhere and there is an air of inevitability about it… at the moment anyway. It can be deliberate, inadvertent and miscellaneous but before you get too worried about where I am going with all of this don’t panic I am going to talk about linguistics it is not going to be about anything serious…. OR IS IT! Dum dum dum!
While I was in one of my linguistics classes the other day a music student who was taking this particular class as an elective, got onto the topic of removing her accent while she sings because the Australian accent “just doesn’t sound good.” Many people agreed, to which I said, “You all only think that because all the movies are made in Hollywood and Britain has a history of Empire and Monarchy” thus giving those dialects and accents an air of prestige or normality.
It did not shock me that she and some of the others had this opinion, I have held this opinion about accents before as well. People like what they like and often don’t know why. What shocked me was that she so quickly belittled her own accent, an important marker of her identity. Identity is important to people, that’s why vegans, evangelicals, minority groups etc. are so passionate about their various causes and groups, I love you all people, and as stated before I ain’t going down this rabbit hole so settle down. Her tone was serious and matter of fact, not like a funny, self-deprecating joke that we could all relate to and laugh about.
One thing I tried to let go of very quickly after learning some linguistics was this idea of prescriptive-ism and that there is a right and wrong way to speak. Ponder this; some accents are R-less as in “water” is pronounced “watah.” This exists in many dialects of English ranging from pretentious douche-bags in England, bogans in Australia and redneck Americans. Yet why is classy for one group and ghastly from another? Is it simply generations of cultural brainwashing? Studies of Black English in the states have shown those dialects are just as complex and as rich in vocab as her Majesty’s English, maybe more so. There seems to be this mass ignorance as to what makes something sound cool, gangsta, sophisticated, dumb, mean or other adjectives, and how random it really can be. There is certainly some evidence for certain sounds being nicer or cuter than others, often diminutives and cute things have higher pitched sounds in them, e.g. “EEs” and “CHs” like sweetie or liebchen, terms of endearment in English and German. But what about something like contractions being informal in English but in French if you don’t use them properly you sound like an imbecile?
Next time you catch yourself thinking: (oh yess you better believe I found a way to do a bullet list!)
- Geez, I fucken hate Hindi/yodeling/country/rap/metal music, it sounds so awful.
- German is so aggressive and sounds ugly.
- French sounds really…élégant
- People with accent x sound dumb.
Remind yourself that your environment and upbringing has quite likely conditioned you to feel this way and that hundreds of millions of people love/hate those sounds you hate/love and use them for wonderful things like: (ooh yeah bullet list numero dos)
- Making hilarious jokes about how funny other accents/languages sound.
- Telling their kids they love them (kids can be a common side effect of romance.)
So please only take fun and humour from accents, do not use them to put people in boxes, just don’t be an accent-ist!
P.s Kiwis sound ruduculous 😉
Image from Goodreads.com, don’t sue me John Green or Goodreads I love your work.