Culture

Why people are still trying to 'lose' their accents

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A flyer in New York City offering accent reduction classes

This is a flyer in New York City offering accent-reduction classes. 

Credit:

Martin Snoer Raaschou

Some people do it to become more intelligible. Others to gain respect or seek new opportunities.

In this episode of The World in Words, we hear from Americans and non-Americans about why they have tried to "lose" their accent. 

Novelist Louie Cronin grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In her high school choir, she heard herself and the other students singing, "Try to remembah the kind of Septembah ... "

Louie recalls thinking, "We sound really dumb!" That's when she decided to lose her Boston accent. Her school friends and even her mother laughed at her efforts to "improve" herself. But get rid of the accent she did. 

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Founder and director of Accents Off Rochel deOliveira.

Rochel deOliveira is the founder and director of Accents Off in New York. 

Credit:

Alina Simone/PRI 

Non-native speakers often have a harder time of it. World in Words contributor Alina Simone speaks with Estonian Ilya Nassanov and Thai Lisa Trongprakob about this. Both have enlisted the help of speech pathologist Rochel deOliveira who heads New York-based  "speech and voice improvement" company Accents Off

We also check in with University of Oklahoma linguistics professor Dennis Preston who has researched how people react to variations in language. Preston says many of us are guilty of "accent bias." Some white Americans, for example, are less likely to understand a sentence of English if they think the speaker is Asian than if they think the speaker is white. 

Preston views accents as a last frontier of discrimination. It's no longer socially acceptable to discriminate based on race, gender or sexual orientation. But accent, he says, is still fair game for many of us.

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Thanks to Martin Snoer Raaschou for the top photo.

With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities

In Arts, Culture & MediaCultureThe World in Words.

Tagged: CambridgeBostonNorth AmericaUnited StatesMassachusetts.