Laura Diaz

Educator, Omaha Public Schools

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Do you think certain dialects or accents are stereotyped as less intelligent and if so does it hinder professional career choices?

As time passes, particularly idiomatic phrases tend to shake the classification of slang and fall by the wayside into the realm of "normal." .For example, the expression "Okay" is a slang term originating in 1840. "Okay has traveled the globe and become "acceptable" vernacular world wide. However, the actress Emma Thompson has spoken out against the use of sloppy language and certain accent dialects
saying that people who did not speak properly made her feel "insane". Do you agree?

  • Mar 15 2014: There are many people that feel miscommunication due to "sloppy" language leads to many problems. I tend to agree. There is another side to your question. We have different levels of language. Growing up, I spoke a dialect for the street, proper English for school, and another language at home. At first the street dialect was not acceptable on radio or television but was slowly accepted in commercials and some programs.
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    Mar 15 2014: There are two occasions we talk,formal and informal. The words and phrases used in different occasions differ. As we all evolve to a certain agreement, we need suitable tongue in a particular context. For instance,household conversation,diplomatic dialogue,business negotiation,etc. Would you be comfortable to hear slang in a high-profile diplomatic dialogue,vice versa.

    In my opinion,in talks among friends,family members,slang is acceptable,and more relevant to some extent. In other word,terminology. Scientific terminology,militarism terminology,or sexual terminology,etc,it is required to say terminology,otherwise we couldn't be understood. So,we can consider,slang is terminology of daily informal talk.
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    Mar 14 2014: I believe certain accents are stereotyped as being less intelligent.
    It may not be easy to completely rid the society of it, and like ethnocentrism, maybe awareness of it could help us to keep it in check.
    As a filmmaker I know the impact of the media in influencing societal perception about accents. In films, the rich, romantic guy is the dude with the Barack Obama-like accent; and the thug is the African American dude that speaks Ebonics; and the dumb, poor guy who (probably flying for the 1st time) sweats in the plane and asks the window to be open, is an African.

    Some people are enlightened enough to know that films and the media presents pictures meant to keep ratings high and box office sales high (please check of Chimamanda Adichie's TED talk 'The Danger of A Single Story').
    For most people, when the media serves a 'dish', the swallow everything thoughtlessly.

    The world is easy to control by the few who could still manage to think. And this privileged few dictates where who and what is.

    As far as professional career is concerned, every field has its jargon and formal language of instruction. And certain professions require a kind of language that the general public can relate to.

    An Ebonics speaker can hardly get a job as an anchor on CNN primetime news. How about me as your weatherman on FoxNews, with my African accent?
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    Mar 12 2014: Laura, In the documents and through the media we have been told that people who arrived in the Kings court who were not "like" them were barbarians. And within the "relm" was the upper class and the lower class which were seperated by speech and dress. Modern examples are more closely associated with neighborhoods and country clubs. In the 1920's the super rich lived in Marthas Vineyard and had estates in New England and talked funny. Later the movie industry made many rich and famous and we were taught to be cool you did and said what the people of Beverlyhills did. This was made fun of when the "Beverly Hillbillies" came to the elite snob neighborhood.

    Georgia was the USA equivlent of Australia for the British ... it was a penial coloney and therefore all of the unwanted were sent off to not be associated with the good folk.

    We read everyday that the south has the worst schools, the fattest people, the worst economy, etc ... So if a person want a executive job and says they are from Mississippi they will have to be MUCH higher qualified to get the same consideration.

    Then there are the "glittering generalizations" ... Blonds have more fun ... red heads love to fight .... Polish jokes ... bible thumpers ... tea party .... right wing nut .... These are employed to make the speaker feel that s/he is far superior to the ones being subjected to the brand.

    Yeah ... Many brands are in place to ensure that "I" remain superior and we receive permission from our peer groups when they accept our bigotry as the group view.

    Every Southerner knows these things about you damn Yankees.

    Be well my friend.
    • Mar 13 2014: An example that amuses me: Dropping the "g" from words ending in "-ing" in English. In the USA, it has long been associated with being "low class". In the UK, for a while, it was considered to be part of the "UC" accent ("UC" referring to the "upper class"). Thus, it would be "rednecks" or "hillbillies" who said "huntin'" in the USA but aristrocratic fox-hunters who said that in the UK.
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    Mar 12 2014: I would not have thought accent makes much of a difference in the current day as much as grammar and other aspects of a person's style of speech. As you mention southern accents, I don't think that President Clinton or President Carter were considered unintelligent because of their accents.

    I think people who use a lot of slang in a job interview may put themselves at a disadvantage in some places of employment and that people who seem to ramble or to be verbose are at a disadvantage.

    In some lines of work some accents are likely preferred. News anchor people and people providing service over the telephone need to be understood easily by those to whom or with whom they might be speaking.

    I think Robert is correct that how an accent is accepted depends on place and time. Shortly after WW2 a German accent would not have been popular in many settings, for example. Today I doubt that a German accent would be an impediment to employment anywhere.
    • Mar 13 2014: You are aware that there is more than one "southern accent", are you not, and they can be very different from either Clinton or Carter's upper-class educated southern accent?
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        Mar 13 2014: I know there are a variety of southern accents, but I have never lived in the South and would not be able to tell from an accent which state the person is from.
        • Mar 16 2014: Clinton and Carter sound nothing like the ordinary people around here. Likewise, since Clinton and Carter were the darling boys of the Left, they got a free pass. It's generally "enlightened" people (liberals, progressives, and other brain-dead cases) who adore portraying the southerner as being an inherent and unteachable idiot--unless the southerner worships at the altar of the Left, of course.
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    Apr 12 2014: I don't think accents or dialects correlate with intelligence, however, I hate it when young people, or people who think they're "hip" (whatever the latest term for being cool is), use "street talk" in "non-street" environments. For some reason they expect to be understood and respected when what is coming from their mouths may as well be a foreign language.

    Language is a communication tool and most people learn to use it appropriately so they can get their meaning across successfully. Those who don't learn this skill come across as lacking social intelligence or being deliberately belligerent.
  • Mar 27 2014: I had a pretty thick speach impediment when I was a pup. I had to go to speech therapy in grade school to learn how to speak properly and enunciate. I still stutter and slur when I'm angry or have been drinking. I was always pretty embarrassed about it growing up. I got some sideways looks sometimes and remember feeling like people thought I was stupid. I worked through it though. Emma thompson and her ilk can pretty well kiss my a$$.
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    Mar 22 2014: Accent may be a nice colorful "feature" when we speak foreign languages.

    Bad, poor "street-smart", and broken language is a curse even for a native when one wishes to express some intelligent thought or professional knowledge.

    There is a very big difference between

    1. having an accent but speak well

    and 2. use only poor, broken language

    We choose which one to use.

    (Shall I fix my slight French accent? I think, as long as I can express my thoughts to some point I might keep my accent.)
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    Mar 13 2014: Oh my goodness actress has spoken out against certain language and certain accents??? She better be careful....she'll be out of work as an actress!!! LOL!

    I was a professional actor for awhile, and I LOVE all the accents that were required for certain roles. I love to listen to people speaking with different accents in real life too, and have enjoyed learning a few words in various languages when traveling. I have an accent that is difficult to pin-point too Laura, and I think it is from dabbling in different accents and languages:>)

    I suggest that those who stereotype people with certain dialects or accents are people who judge and stereotype people for a lot of other things as well. Hopefully on a professional level, people are usually intelligent, insightful and open minded enough to know that dialects or accents are not a sign of more or less intelligence?

    One of my most interesting challenges with language was playing the role of a young women from the Ozarks (mountainous region where the accent was hillbilly- ish), who went to college. I learned the original accent as she would have spoken it as a child. Then learned it again as she might have changed the accent with education in a city. The director connected with a language professor from that area, who sent tapes that he made with the original accent, and how it might have changed with education in the city. It was an interesting exploration, and I got more familiar with the character I was playing:>)
  • Mar 13 2014: Yes. This is why it is common for people to try to lose their accents as they get higher education at regional/local schools and move on from there. I agree that extremely narrow-minded people like Emma Thompson feel "insane" when they deal with those who have dialects or idiolects that are not like their own. I also agree that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder can feel "insane" if glasses in a cabinet are not arranged in perfect rows, by height and color. Doesn't mean that I think either behavior is desirable or "sane".
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      Mar 13 2014: Very good point regarding how individuals attempt to "lose" their accents through training. It is most definitely what my step-mother attempted to do with me when I was a child. Im sure she meant well....maybe. ;) I think she just managed to contribute to my "mutant" accent which confuses people trying to figure out what "country" I am from. Hilarious. United States, multicultural born and bred. :) I tend to be very careful when I am speaking in public, but when I m tired or excited about a topic I slip into my weirdly mixed accent.:)
    • Mar 14 2014: I don't think one should try to lose their accent. It's better to learn to understand others' accents and to know how to make yourself be understood.
  • Mar 12 2014: My opinion is based on my own surroundings and experiences. I do believe accents or dialects that are different from the general of the population are discriminated against, in the sense that they are categorized as "different" and by different, I mean "strange."

    For some reason, sometimes what people don't understand they categorize as weird or less intelligent in order to make themselves feel validated for not better understanding.
  • Mar 12 2014: I doubt it. My strong accent has never been a problem.
  • Mar 11 2014: I think it might depend on the audience quite a bit. There are probably biases among people who have the same dialect that they are hearing. Maybe how the media portrays some of the dialects might be influential since it reaches so many people.
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      Mar 12 2014: Robert, I think that you have made a very good point here.
      When you said that media portrayals may have an influence since it reaches so many people. I considered this, and the thought occurred to me that men with southern or "country" accents are portrayed as foul-mouthed, uneducated, not very smart, get the idea.
      As for women (with those accents) they are portrayed as air-headed, or racist, and are always sharing some southern colloquialism that is confusing/amusing.
      Interesting.....this also connects in my mind as to how different cultures are portrayed in the media and because of this when most people think of one culture or another they can't help but have a certain media created image in their mind.... very interesting.. thank you for spurring more ideas and socio- connections/implications for me to look into and research. Thanks! :)
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    Mar 11 2014: "Do you think certain dialects or accents are stereotyped as less intelligent and if so does it hinder professional career choices?" Yes. This is not my personal belief but this is what I see and hear. Some accents are described as "charming, sophisticated, or civilized". Some are characterized as "terrible" or worse.

    "However, the actress Emma Thompson has spoken out against the use of sloppy language and certain accent dialects saying that people who did not speak properly made her feel "insane". Do you agree?" No, but this is happening in many places as you read this.

    What Emma Thompson does not realize is that her accent is considered "sloppy or strange" in many parts of the world.

    Why do many people from all over the world still come here? Because for many of them, life in the old country is extremely difficult if not utterly unbearable. It's better to experience prejudice than extreme poverty or tyranny.

    I'm an immigrant myself. I experienced and still experience all of the above. I just don't dwell on it!

    "Never underestimate your power to change yourself; never overestimate your power to change others." Author: H. Jackson Brown Jr.

    "Study hard, work hard, adapt, and overcome." Rodrigo Feliciano?
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      Mar 12 2014: Rodrigo, I appreciate your thoughtful and well thought out response. I found the topic interesting because of an interaction I recently had with a College Professor I was speaking with during a seminar I was attending. He asked me what I thought of the speaker and did I agree with the things he was sharing. So-- I begin to share my thoughts. But as I am doing this his hand comes up to his chin and he is looking at me strangely. So I begin to think that perhaps I did not speak properly or use the appropriate collegiate words. When I finished my last sentence he asks me, "Where are you from? What country?" At that statement I had to control my laughter. You see, I have what my linguist friend calls a "mutant" accent. I was born in Arkansas and lived there until I was 5. The foundation is Arkansas southern. However, we then moved to California where my best friends (as close as sisters) were Hindi, Filipino,Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, etc... Now, when we moved to CA my step-mother ( who had a strong Bostonian accent) insisted that she "break" me of my "ignorant" southern accent. Many days she would make me practice speaking properly. Oh, how angry she was when I began to learn Hindi & Spanish as I interacted with child-like exuberance with my neighborhood friends. My linguist friend has a theory about how my strange accent was acquired. She says that children are more like very pliable clay than they are sponges. The base edge on my "accent clay" was southern; but each of the cultures I became deeply immersed in as such a young child put their own prints on that clay also. Now, my accent is a curious mixture that causes puzzled expressions on the faces of some people. :) Of course, that experience with the Professor reminded me of my step-mother, which reminded me of my research on slang, which reminded me of Emma Thompson and the speech she made, which made me curious as to the opinion of other individuals...and there you have my thought process
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        Mar 12 2014: Thank you for sharing, Laura. It's so interesting that even native born Americans experience some "things" that we think only immigrants experience. I have learned early in life to focus on the content instead of the accent.

        The diversity of cultures and accents is what makes America unique and interesting.
  • Apr 9 2014: I don't think such people make me feel insane, but I do not hire people who do not learn how to say "ask" rather than "aks". I also do not hire people with accents common to certain parts of North Carolina. Does that answer your question?
  • Mar 18 2014: Whether you like it or not, if you talk in a street dialect, you will have to fight the perception that you are less educated and less intelligent. You will also have a hit depending upon how you dress.
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      Mar 22 2014: I think you are right about the "urban dialect" and the dress. Especially if it's the baggy pants and such. I have always tried to(respectfully) impress upon my students the difference between "home language" and "school/work language." In that way, I am not downgrading their parents or friends , just pointing out the need to differentiate the two. I got this strategy from a colleague that was telling me how he speaks one way at home and in his neighborhood but how at work he speaks "work language." ( He is very well-spoken and educated) He was sharing how one teacher really made a difference in life by saying it was okay for him to speak home language but at school or work there is a different way to speak. He said that teachers before her were always correcting his grammar also, but they did it in away that made him feel like he and his whole culture was sub-par. :)
  • Mar 15 2014: If people are any good, useful, then why don't they stay at home and help the community that raised them?

    Once upon a time in England, the English monarch died without an heir so they imported a new monarch from Germany. To avoid offending the new monarch, the Royal court mimicked the German accent. Then the Upper Class mimicked the Royal court. Thus, amongst the English ruling class, the German marbles-in-the-mouth accent became superior to the English accent.

    Certain dialects and accents are stereotyped as less intelligent by people who stereotype themselves with superior dialects or accents.

  • Mar 14 2014: Let me start by saying I don't have issues with any accents. However, I do think that when conversing among others, one should in a way standardize their accent. For instance, when I visited Britain, I tried very carefully to use their accent (meaning, I met them halfway and enunciated a bit better). When we visited Texas, our family spoke more like Californians. I think being flexible with your surroundings is a common courtesy, and those who are more professional and intelligent will know to provide that courtesy.
  • Mar 12 2014: Yeah Jamaican accents are stereotyped for some one who smokes weed alot. But that is the only one I know as a true stereotype.