I recently watched a viral video about a foreign guy proposing a new language and culture phenomenon called “Accentism.” He puts accentism in the same bandwagon as race and gender issues. While his foreign accent can get him sticky stares and instant conversation (with American ladies, I presume) he runs into setbacks, he says, just about anywhere in the English speaking world. His is not an isolated case. And, certainly, it’s not going to go away soon.
Any language is wrapped in many layers of nuances. English is one of them. If we take the guy’s argument that “Your accent is your music” then we shouldn’t be surprised when we hear off-pitch speakers. Not everyone can carry a tune. And, as in real life, we all have varying vocal range. What I’d like to discuss instead is what’s acceptable accent (speech music) and why is that. There really is a mouthful to say about this.
Copyright: Project Nightfall
First off there’s the common European framework of Reference for Languages that spells out the overarching grid on global English language competencies. How this institution works is too complicated for this short article, but basically CEFR stores language use data for policy- making and research purposes. At CEFR English has been a superstar for some time. What the CEFR says is that in speaking English many factors come into play; and many factors come into consideration as well. On accents, mutual intelligibility upends everything. In an age of rapid globalization and mass migration, our busiest cities and sea ports are now home to a thousand and one accents. It shouldn’t be surprising to hear different intonations crash and blend into each other– and mutate into new ones.
This is what we get when watch TV and use social media tools. By and large this is a good thing as far as language use goes. As for cocked ears and raised eyebrows because of a different accent, a theory holds that this is no more of a language issue than a cultural one. We can never get rid of biases even in an age of so many forms of correctness. In some quarters, in fact, it is this rage for correctness that sparks the issue. There doesn’t seem to be an all-or-nothing approach to quelling cultural biases (language use or appropriating an accent being one of them). It may be too idiosyncratic an observation, but a family circle speaks in a certain way, too. That goes for a certain neighbourhood or a certain clan.
On both the small and large scales, there’s bound to be accent differences everywhere. Going back to the analogy above, we each can sing the same song in a different way. While your way (his way, her way) is entirely your own, the music is for everyone else who cares to listen out there.