Ever pull into a city in a suburb and notice a shopping center with a Target at one end, a Home Depot at the other, a bunch of chain stores in the middle and forget what city you’re in? It could be Anywhere USA. That, my friends, is what people are trying to do with the English language.
NPR’s All Things Considered this afternoon interviewed Billy Baker of the Boston Globe, who wrote an
ahticle article about a class in Boston to help residents get rid of their accents (Story here but audio won’t be posted until later, apparently)
Treating Bostonians as if they were dogs pooping indoors, the teacher uses a clicker — a dog clicker — to call attention to any hint that Bostonians were, in fact, from Boston.
I went through something similar in college back in the ’70s, without the dog
clickah clicker. Constantly beat into us was the notion that the perfect accent for aspiring radio broadcasters is the Midwest accent. Well, good for y’all.
I’ve always been fascinated by regional accents. I have a hard time understanding, for example, what people in St. Louis are saying (my Kentucky colleague refers to this as Mississippi mushmouth), I love the Cajun influence of someone from Louisiana, or the slow drawl of Charleston, South Carolina.
Why do we want to get rid of these and bulldoze our way to the language version of Target and Home Depot?
As you might expect, this notion isn’t sitting well with the people of Boston, judging by their comments attached to the story…
“What sounds dumb is judging people’s intellectual abilities by the sound of their voice. Taking all the regional flavor and character out of peoples’ accents also sounds dumb – do we all want to sound like newscasters?”
“If this were an article about a class which taught African Americans to lose THEIR speech patterns(like “ax” for ask) we would hear shouts(and rightfully so) of racism. I moved here in 1973 with a mixed London/Brooklyn accent tinged by some upstate New York. No one could tell where I was from. I pick up speech fast(foreign and otherwise) and picked up somewhat of a Boston accent. Of course my kids, born here, speak with one tho my son who recently moved down South now says,’Hey did youall pak youh cah?'”
“All language is composed of dialects which in part are comprised by accents. So the question, unanswered by the story, is what accent these folks are being taught to adopt. Presumably it is a Midwestern accent. So it’s not about ‘getting rid’ of an accent, it’s trading your local, native accent for one from 1,000 miles away. That’s pretty self-hating.
We are who we are. We’re from where we’re from.
And with the close of this post, I’m heading back to Boston for 10 days of house painting. I’ll miss you all and your perfect accents, but I shall try to console myself with a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and a cinnamon doughnut.