Does accent really matter in the United States as long as one speaks with the lucid clarity – Opinion


Lamin-SaballyBy: Lamin Sabally- Minneapolis, Minnesota

The obsession with accent in the US amongst a good number of Americans and immigrant populations sometimes tend to gravitate towards unimaginable proportion.  For instance, it is very common to hear in schools, workplaces, malls and other public places people making disturbing reference to a person’s accent if and when that person fails to speak with the presumed “American accent”. Largely, according to observations, this is due mainly to nearsightedness or shallow understanding of the diverse nature of vast American linguistic landscape. Evidently, there is and there has never been anything like a unique “American accent”. On the contrary, there are many different accents in America which vary from state to state and from region to region. Interestingly, some studies found that one state may even have different accents depending on their geographic locations.

Additionally, all over the world, there are more than forty different accents of English, according to the documentary and book titled “The Adventures of English.”. According to Robert McNeil’s “Do you Speak American,” in America, there are fourteen different regional accents of English.  While audaciously questioning the validity of the Queen’s English which is generally considered to be the best type of English, a critic, Mark Twain revealed There is no such thing as the Queen’s English. The property has gone into the hands of a joint stock company and we own the bulk of the shares.”

Amazingly, although conclusive study findings are not unanimous about the exact number of accents in America, it has been confirmed that the numbers are staggering with some findings suggesting that there are over a thousand, while other put the figure to a far lower number at 14 as asserted in “Do you Speak American?” which is both in book form and video. Some of the common and general accents include the Inland Northern, Upper Midland, North and South Midlands, Midland, New York, Mid-Western, Miami, Boston and Great Lakes. Clearly, this list is only indicative of the swamped phonologic menu list, and the samples given only attempts to minutely mirror the storm of varied accents in the most power and only super power nation in the face of the world.

Traditionally, it is believed that among the mushrooming list, the Mid-western also known as the “General American accent” is vetted to be clearest, just as is the BBC Accent also known as the Received Pronunciation in the United Kingdom.  For this and other reasons, people in the world of broadcasting business for both Radio and Television are professionally groomed to speak with the Mid-Western accent because of its obvious clarity and unblemished comprehension by all and sundry. Just like the BBC English, the Midwestern accent is believed to have flawless clarity in its enunciation. Based on this accumulating convincing assessment, the Midwestern accent is still controversially considered as the quintessential American accent.  However, in both Congress and Senate, there has been consistent prevalence of different drawls by senators and men and women in congress depending on which areas of the United States they are representing. In their deliberations that are often relayed on C-SPAN, listeners and viewers can easily discern recognizable difference in accents in these discussions especially during hot political debates about high-profile legislations.

Studies have identified some prominent politicians who speak with different drawls. Among them is the late Senator Ted Kennedy who spoke with Boston accent, former President Jimmy Carter whose enunciation is implanted in typical Southern accent and New York Senator Chuck Schumer who naturally speaks with New York accent. While former President Bill Clinton has South Midlands accent, his wife, former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks with North Midlands.  Former Vice President and Presidential candidate Al Gore and former West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd are both identified with South Midlands Accent.

The increasing diversity of the US population landscape also correspondingly translates to unprecedented multiplication of accents that immigrants bring to the massive list of the accent menu in the world’s most diverse country. The continuous inflow of immigrants in many categories from all four corners of the world provides added dependable and justifiable evidence that the US is a land of immigrants. This is supported by the strong push for enacting the bi-partisan bill on comprehensive immigration law that is being tabled for debate in Senate pending a possible approval before being sent to Congress for a assumed protracted scrutiny before its likely approval as well.

Faced with the reality that America is a nation of many accents, should anyone be perturbed by being myopically labeled as speaking with an accent as long as the person speaks with the required clarity? In my judgment a decisive answer to this is an absolutely no. Some of the most lucrative professions are occupied by people with accents.  Cases in point are doctors of all specializations and dentists many of whom are Germans, Pilipino, Egyptians and other nationalities or origins. In the area of engineering, Computer Science and Information Technology, one will find out that Asians, particularly Indians, Pakistanis. Bangladeshis and Malaysians form greater percent of these money-spinning professions. The company I currently work for has its IT service outsourced to India and any time we are faced with compounding computer issues, a call to the support center is immediately picked up by someone in India whose first response is to properly diagnose the problem before finding solution to the issue. The area of teaching at the level of Higher Educational Learning Institutions is also amazingly flooded with a huge pool of professors of different nativities. Suffice to indicate, I have attended three different levels of tertiary education here in Minnesota from a Community College, Undergraduate to Graduate schools and in all these three institutions, I have been satisfactorily lectured by different professors with clearly distinct accents including Africans, Europeans and Asians. Some of the Deans of these universities and college are professors who speak with the so-called divergent accents. Most importantly, majority of students do not have even a jot of problem understanding because of not only their already abundant exposure to diverse accents but supremely, because of the flawless lucidity of enunciations of these professors and lecturers.

American English has evolved drastically, and a result there are marked difference in words meanings and their enunciations from British English which was its parent language.  Accumulative historical evidence show that in 1776, most States speak with the British accent. Even though both languages have steadily evolved so much, there are still some states that are still presumably identified with the British accent because most of the first settlers of these states migrated from Great Britain and since then, the connection with the language has not changed so much linguistically. Admittedly, in impulsive fine efforts to erase even a minute barrier of communication at our workplaces and schools when speaking with white Americans, we may all sometimes become unconscious victims of what I would personally call linguistic imperialism/ linguistic beauties or niceties. Unfortunately, some of these conversations and presentations tend to produce the avoidable results of compounding the communication barriers in some circumstances especially if the exact native pronunciations are not correctly uttered or are awkwardly articulated.  For the benefit of the readers, the exact difference between British English and American English is what linguists called divergence of rhotacism.  The General American accent, according conclusive linguistic findings is rhotic and speakers pronounce the r in words such as hard. The BBC-type British accent is non-rhotic, and speakers don’t pronounce the r, leaving hard sounding more like hahd. Before and during the American Revolution, people, both in England and in the colonies, mostly spoke with a rhotic accent. For a more detailed understanding of global diversity of English language which was facilitated by British imperial expansion, please check “The Adventures of English” which is available in book format and video as well.

A fitting conclusion is that everyone has an accent, and with that in mind, what is important is to speak with the utmost clarity with that accent. The business and political landscape of this great nation is composed of men and women with so-called accent. In addition, the diversity and multiculturalism of the United States is beautified by its varying cultures, languages, ancestry and many others that is only unique to this great nation that is not equal to any other in the whole world.  Because of this empirical fact, it is why politicians from all political spectrum and their supporters plus moguls of all major business organizations have been consistent in their unanimous recognition of diversity as the monolith strength of “Uncle Sam”. Some of the prominent figures who still proudly carry their distinct accents are billionaire George Soros a Hungarian native, Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of German nativity and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State who has German origin and Huffington  Post President and Chief Editor Arianna  Huffington Media Group of Greece descent.


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