Irrational Prejudices

Orly Mercado

Posted on July 30, 2006

The professor has an accent!

I had just submitted the grades of all the students in my classes in Global Communication. I felt satisfied with myself. This is my first semester in a Japanese college. And as I had time on my hands, I decided to ask an administrative assistant to translate for me the results of a survey of my performance by my students.

I tried to look unaffected and nonchalant as she explained that I was doing very well. This is the “psychic income” we teachers cherish. It is what keeps us going.

As I was going through the individual comments of the students, one caught my attention. It simply said: “The professor has an accent!” My initial reaction was: “Look who is talking!”. Having been a broadcaster of many years in the Philippines, I assumed that my spoken English was closer to what could be called “standard” by most native Asian speakers. After the initial sting of the comment I calmed down and reminded myself of some realities. Everyone speaks with an accent. From the point of view of the listener, the speaker has an accent if he does not sound himself or herself. In fact there are times we unconsciously speak the way others speak specially if we are in a different country. It is an effort to be accepted.

Globalization has been brought about by advances in telecommunication technology. But it has been Western mass media’s cultural transmissions that continues to shape world culture. Critics call it a homogenizing process. One of the most potent intruments of this process is the English language. It is no wonder that today, most global television networks use readers and presenters with a variety of accents. Even the BBC has long abandoned a policy of exclusively using the “received pronunciation” that has its origins in the East Midlands.

Prejudice and stereotyping on the basis of one’s accent continues to permeate our daily lives. There are accents that appear to sound cool on radio, television or the movies. It is however, hard to predict which would sound exotic and appealing, and which would be irritating.

Negative media portrayals that reinforce stereotypes are the elements that engender hate speech. It may start as hostile humor targeted at certain groups. Their effects are cumulative. The new global citizen has to learn the variations in language. This understanding could lead to more tolerance of another’s accent. It is this tolerance that could make us more accepting of the way they sound, look or even smell. Then we may become more tolerant of each other’s religion or way of life. Who knows, it may even make us less inclined to blow each other up just because we can’t stand each other.

Sure, I have an accent. But so have you. And it is not a big deal.

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