An Introduction to Accent Discrimination

Diversity is a naturally occurring phenomenon throughout all of life, including language. Despite this everyone has their own idea of what is “correct” when it comes to speech, with some dialects and accents considered “better” than others. Even those who have been specifically taught otherwise can find it difficult not to make an instant judgment about a person solely on the basis of how they speak (Lippi-Green, 1994; Milroy & Milroy, 1991). It is in these moments, when snap judgments are made and not examined or discarded, that accent discrimination can arise.

For many people, the terms accent and dialect do not mean anything more than how someone who is other and different speaks. In fact, many people believe they themselves do not even have an accent (Morley, 1996), something linguists refer to as “the non-accent myth” (Cho, 2010). The word accent itself was originally a Latin translation of the Greek word “prosiodia,” (Vaissiere & Boula De Mareuil, 2004) which was used to differentiate between people who spoke “correctly” and those who did not (, 2015). This seems to imply that approaching accents as something that is other is not a new view and has in fact been the prominent language ideology for millennia.

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