Thoughts On The Word "Accent"

Sunday, February 07, 2010

I was talking with a friend and they brought up something which was the following: Is the word "accent" an offensive term? For them it definitely was, but for me I wasn't so sure, in that sense I never really thought it about from that perspective when I've heard it from people in the API community. Either people I've talked with, or who I've heard use it, or in articles or posts where I've seen it - it's never quite been a bad thing - in that way, it's been used in a way saying "Just because my father, mother, friend, etc, has an accent doesn't mean they're dumb, doesn't make them any less of a person" - in that way the connotation has been the exact opposite, and while I don't know every person from the API community, I'd probably put that the way I've seen or heard that usage in my lifetime has been in the hundreds from that perspective.

That being said - I've often heard the word used by other people in a very denigrating manner. People won't hire other people because of an accent. Even in this past election, people came out and said it was wrong that they only showed people from the API community with an accent in certain news stories - that it perpetualized the all too familiar "You're still a foreigner." image of people in the API community. We often say that "I speak English and I don't have an accent".

But is the word itself a pejorative? Is using it offensive?

If it's used in a denigrating form - does saying the words "My mom/my friend/some of my people have an accent and there's nothing wrong with it?" Does it take it back in a way in the sense of saying "Hey - you use the word like that, but I'm not going too."?

Or is the word just intrinsically racist and xenophobic?

It's a good question and something I'll have to think about more.