Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Multicultural Column

“Telephone!” I exclaimed with a subtle foreign accent and triumphant joy to family members.

It was 1989, and telephone was one of the very first words I had learned in Haiti of that advantageous English language – a language that would later determine and deny my cultural authenticity between two cultures.

When I came to the United States at nine years old, I did not want to continue speaking French for fear that I would inherit my mother’s strong accent, as all the students at my new school spoke impeccable English. At a young age, I believed that acquiring a “bad” accent was a great disadvantage because it would make me seem less American, and stupid.

In a society that claims to be a melting pot (more like tossed salad) and accepts everyone for who they are, it is a sad fact that foreigners with certain accents are deemed elite and refined, while others are associated with the notion of inferiority and unintelligence.

Senior David Johnson, a chemistry major at Florida Atlantic University, speaks in what he considers a standard English accent. “I suspect that the English accent is somewhat of a commodity, and there still exists a certain respect for United Kingdom individuals,” says the twenty-two year old London native. Johnson does not regard his accent as being superior, but he does feel that an English accent has “an effect on the general populace, and perhaps individuals that possess the English accent are seen as well-spoken.”

“People make a mistake in assigning intelligence and inherent capabilities to people who speak well,” explains Dr. Robert Trammell, a languages and linguistics professor at FAU. “The way we speak are not indications of the way we think,” says Trammell.

I enrolled in a math course last spring at Palm Beach Community College, which was taught by a Haitian professor, who obviously excelled in his mathematical studies, and truly cared for his students to perform well in his course. On occasion, I witnessed certain college students mocking this professor’s accent in and outside of class. Some actually thought the professor was inexperienced in his field because of his accent! They continually criticized his teaching because he was not “privileged” to speak English as they spoke it, despite the fact that he spoke three different languages.

“We identify with people who talk like us,” says Trammell. “Some foreign accents correlate with negative stereotypes from a certain culture,” adds Trammell. If that is the case, then people should: (a) refrain from stereotyping and (b) realize that an accent may simply be acquired as the speech pattern of one’s native language transfers to a newly applied language.

Eventually, I realized that there is no such thing as a good accent or a bad accent. And so, rather than judge one’s competence by the fluidity of their English enunciation, perhaps one should profit from the opportunity to communicate in a multilingual society.

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