by Yana Kane, Opinions writer
graphic by Caitlin Ang
English is spoken by over 952 million people worldwide, so naturally there is a wide range of accents and dialects. In many countries, English is even the primary language. However, because American music and television reaches so many outside of the U.S., the English language has started to become associated solely with the “general” American accent, which could be detrimental to its immigrant population.
U.S. media is partly to blame for enforcing harmful stereotypes about people without an American accent. Such a phenomenon can be traced back to the early 1920s, when U.S pop culture began to dominate the global market. As movies and music that included English with an American dialect spread worldwide, people began to perceive the American accent as the correct way of speaking because it was all they ever heard.
The film industry can also lack diversity among the actors they cast, which is problematic because it spreads the idea that America is overwhelmingly white and English speaking. Protagonists in film are often played by white actors, who live up to the Western beauty standard, and if they differ from it, then the plot is most likely only about their struggles. Diversity in the media needs to become normalized because it is the reality of day-to-day representation in America.
A strong nationalistic belief that promotes the idea that America is the greatest country and lacks any faults also contributes to the harmful misconception that the only proper way of speaking English is with the standard American accent that has come to dominate the perception of how many in the U.S. talk.
In reality, no country is perfect and it is especially detrimental to the diverse population that America prides itself upon to suggest that accented, imperfect or dialectical English is uneducated or of low class.
For example, my parents immigrated to the U.S from Ukraine and have been citizens for over 20 years. Although they speak English almost perfectly, their accent sometimes causes people to judge them. Strangers sometimes speak slowly to my parents — as if they are talking to a child — because they assume that my parents don’t understand the language.
My parents’ knowledge will always be overlooked because of the way they speak. It is frustrating that an accent, which is out of anyone’s control, as no one can choose their native language or nationality, can cause such disdain from others. It is absurd for my parents and other immigrants alike to be disrespected for something they cannot control in a country that claims to be equal and accepting.
America may seem to be accepting of immigrants, but it is beyond offensive to discriminate against the way some may speak. Immigrants work incredibly hard to overcome their struggles and make a place for themselves in this country, just to be belittled by people who are unaware of the world outside of their bubble of privilege.
America is supposed to be a country where every voice is equal, but so many residents are still ignored solely because they sound different. All Americans must understand that an inherently correct English accent does not and cannot exist. English is spoken all around the world, impacting many different cultures and communities, so there is no proper way of speaking it.
As America itself is home to many people whose first language isn’t English, it is impossible to even consider one accent correct. There is absolutely nothing patriotic about shaming others for trying to learn. Instead, we should uplift the diversity found in America and celebrate the immigrants that continue to better the country — regardless of how they would pronounce a word.