I’ve had like, twenty emails this afternoon, people saying they heard me on NPR, and: the hell?

So here’s the skinny:

Every once in a while a journalist will do a human interest story on accent, so-called accent reduction, accent discrimination, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (which protects you against discrimination in employment on the basis of traits linked to protected categories.)

accent — native language — national origin

National origin is protected.

Language subordination and language discrimination were my areas of expertise when I was still an academic. Once in a while I get asked to be an expert witness in Title VII cases. Usually I just write a report and it ends there. Only once I actually had to testify. And once in a while a journalist calls.

I do telephone interviews maybe twice a year for radio programs, but mostly they are local and not national broadcasts. I haven’t even heard this one. I tend to avoid them because they condense a half hour interview into a few soundbites, and often (not always) what I was trying to say gets mangled.

So that’s that.


that’s not that. I just listened to the report. I feel the need to state publically what I just said to Richard Gonzales in writing:

[your report] was a nicely put together piece, but (you know that was coming) I find it unfortunate that the overall impression was that accent reduction classes are a viable proposition. The assumption that accent can/should be reduced wasn’t really questioned. My guess is that these action reduction people will get more business based on this report.

So again it’s a case of the people being discriminated against having to change, rather than any effort to educate and rehabilitate those who are doing the discriminating.

20 Replies to “NPR”

  1. I recently re-watched PRETTY IN PINK with my older (25-year-old!) daughter. We sat up in bed with lots of pillows and cups of hot chocolate (this was before the recent heatwave), and the two of us practically rolled off onto the floor with the reveal of that prom dress. Is it possible it was meant to be that bad?

    Spader does seem SO much older now. He was once a pretty boy, a little girlie. Now he looks like a middle-aged woman.

    Okay, I’m probably going to regret posting such unkindnesses — but here goes …

  2. Karen — oh, good. I was starting to think there was something wrong with me, that everybody in the whole world adores that dress.

    I wonder if the costume designer for the movie has any regrets.

  3. I just watched Pretty in Pink this weekend after far too many Duckie free years. I forgot how much I used to love that part where he sang Try a Little Tenderness. Odd the things that make an impression eh?

  4. Absolutly awful dress! It makes me cringe. Worse than wearing something made out of the material covering your grandma’s sofa.

  5. Ha. I too have recently re-watched that movie. And was disgusted and annoyed that she inevitably chose Blaine.

    I also noted that I LOVED the Annie Potts dress in its original form. (So 50’s! So cute!) And then it became indeed one of the fugliest, most unflattering creations ever made. In retrospect, all of her clothes were pretty darn awful. Egads.

  6. I’m kind of glad that Spader hasn’t stayed the same. Makes him more realistic. Certainly suits his character more, to me. Although you don’t get the surprise of the pretty-boy with radical views any more.

  7. I’m noticing though that Spader still has that fly-away hair thing going. Even if it is short.

    I don’t have an opinion on the dress. However, I do remember being disappointed in it. But not much else.

    I had a crush on Andrew McCarthy at the time I saw the movie, so I LOVED that she ended up with him. In my teenage mind, it was perfect in that way.

  8. I just feel like the whole dress thing is a little Skarlet O’hara-ish. Just like Rhett never noticed the tassle, the whole world could tell that this dress of Molly’s was not a Gunnie Sack or what ever was a great prom dress of the time.

  9. It’s funny, because I was just thinking about this movie recently. I actually think it ended the only way it could have. Duckie is great, sure, but that doesn’t mean she is attracted to him. Maybe attraction could develop over time, but at this point in her life it just isn’t there. So Blaine is the guy of choice for prom night, although everyone knows he won’t last. With any luck, Andie will eventually find her soul mate, that magical Duckie/Blaine combo of a real friend who also excites and challenges her. Someone who makes her step out of her comfort zone but is there to hold her hand while she does it.

    Like Lloyd Dobler…now there’s a perfect anti-hero.

  10. Rosina, I’m sorry but I don’t understand the “accent reduction”. Do you mean people discriminating people based on their accent? I used to work as a medical assistant in a pediatrics office in New York State. We had many Spanish/Puerto Rican patients. One mom had a very strong accent, and had trouble communicating, and I thought to myself that it’s too bad there is this language barrier. Because of her speech, she sounded uneducated, but once I talked to her, she was actually quite knowledgeable. Unfortunately, a strong accent can make a wrong/bad first impression.

  11. It’s a big topic, Rachel. I don’t think I could do it justice in this format.

    Let me think about it, maybe I can point you to a concise overview.

  12. Argh! Unfair! Unfair about accents/conformity, unfair that the news is edited and context is the casualty. I was on the bus today, the driver had a strong french accent. The passenger had a strong accent, possibly spanish? hard to tell. They understood each other just fine. So many occasions disprove the idea that conformity is the only solution. Or so it seems to me. And I just heard today at work that in order to pass a language proficiency test, you’d be evaluated on your accent (described to me as how correctly you pronounce your words). Never thought of accent that way. And I have no written rule that says they do indeed test accents on some continuum of bad/good accent.

  13. Umm.. I think, basicly, just my impression, that theres these peeps that wanna make people talk “proper english” by putting them in classes that would teach them to muzzle there natural accent, Rosina was asked her opinion to a semi-related question which they twisted around to give the impression that she thought that these accent destroying classes were a “doable” thing..then again I could be way off.

  14. Hey! I heard that piece! I didn’t hear you, though, because I came into it midstream. (However, I found it easily on and will now listen.) But I’ll say that, having only heard the last minute or so of it, I got the impression that accent reduction was being advocated. Not STRONGLY advocated, but it was presented without an active counterpoint and that really really annoyed me. They didn’t even interview anyone who routinely doesn’t hire people with desireable accents.

    I mean, I know they have to compress it all into only a few minutes, but it really came off as woefully incomplete. I’m not used to NPR barely skimming th surface of a topic like that.

  15. Okay, I lied. Apparently I did hear you, I just didn’t hear your name. (I was at the gym.) And I only missed the first minute-ish of the piece. Hearing that minute-ish now, by the way, doesn’t change my original opinion.

  16. What a sad thing this topic is – sad that society is moving so far (and fast), towards putting us all in boxes – think theme song from “Weeds” here.
    I love the richness that people’s various accents give to our lives.

  17. In graduate school, I was told by a Californian professor that I needed to curb my natural Texas accent or else I’d never be taken for an educated person. On the flipside, I successfully faked a British accent while selling shoes because people were more polite and more willing to let me measure their feet and sell second pairs if I spoke in that fashion. So, while it was insulting to be told that my accent was perceived as a disadvantage, I have manipulated people by changing it of my own accord. So are these classes wrong in what they offer? Or are they wrong because of the way they frame the classes, as “fixing” people? I am inclined to believe the latter, but it’s a slippery slope.

  18. Beth — I am actually relieved you came away with that impression, because I wondered if I was overreacting. It was actually disappointing, because Richard Gonzales is a good reporter and we had a long talk. After all that it makes me unhappy to have the piece turn into something of an advertisement for accent reduction courses. To Nik: yes, the problem is not that person x wants to improve his or her English; there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that person x is made to feel that s/he isn’t good enough and needs fixing. You’ll note that the accent reduction classes are marketed ttoward people from Africa, Asia, South and Middle America. Accent is standing in for race and ethnicity. You won’t find those businesses marketing to Scots or Swedes or Italians. Some accents are stigmatized — but it’s really the people and the communities behind the people who are being stigmatized.

    And sure, some people are better than others at masking their accents for a period of time. The question is, why should they be required to? Your professor was totally out of line.

    Sally — it is indeed sad.
    Pam — it’s also infuriating.
    Wolfy — and frustrating.

  19. When I was in a New York subway this past winter, I heard a man yelling out “Does anybody speak French” so naturally I was thrilled and raised my hand “yes me, me, me!!” so he presented me with two ladies from France who were looking for directions. So I proceeded to introduce myself as Robyn from Montreal,Quebec, I do speak perfect French, blah blah and her response was presented with a disgusted look, she twisted up her face and said “Yes I can tell”. I can tell, What does that mean?!

    She said the Quebecois do not sound like the real French from France (well I sure got you to where you were going didn’t I, you understood that didn’t you LOL).

    So I spoke French all the way in the subway and she smiled the whole way probably thinking, do you hear that accent.

    But here in Quebec, There are many Anglos who speak a broken accented French and people are just grateful that you are trying to speak their language.

    Um, I think this is what the topic is about.

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