Is my accent a crime?

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Aug 1 15:42:42 UTC 2010

So it isn't a crime. That's what I thought.


On Sun, Aug 1, 2010 at 4:06 AM, Tom Zurinskas <truespel at> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Tom Zurinskas <truespel at HOTMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Is my accent a crime?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> The writeup below is clipped from another email list.
> Opinion: In Arizona, Is My Accent a Crime?
> Auther name deleted
> (July 30) -- I know a thing or two about the English language. I have
> published two books in it and written a third. For eight years I was a
> regular commentator on NPR's "All Things Considered." As a journalist, my
> articles have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines and hundreds of
> websites. My short stories and essays are anthologized and taught widely. I
> went to Berkeley and Stanford. I've been a subject of a PBS documentary and
> lectured at Ivy League schools.
> But I still have an accent.
> That's because I came to the U.S. at the age of 11 at the end of the
> Vietnam War, and though I speak English fluently, I cannot fully shave my
> Vietnamese accent from my American tongue. Sometimes my "clue" can sound a
> bit like your "glue," and other times, when stressed, my "bitch" sounds like
> your "peach." Otherwise, I am as American as salsa and sweet-and-sour sauce.
> I'm telling you this because despite my credentials, I may not qualify to
> teach English to immigrant kids -- kids like my younger self -- under
> current Arizona rules. Arizona has decided that it's unacceptable to have
> teachers whose spoken English is deemed to be heavily accented or
> ungrammatical, even though the latter has little to do with the former.
> That prohibition led the great Andrei Codrescu, an author who taught
> English for 40 years but who came from Romania, to wonder out loud on NPR,
> "Did I land back behind the Iron Curtain half a century ago? My last 40
> years of teaching would have never happened if the Arizona law had been the
> law of the land in 1966." Odd that 14 million listeners are fine with his
> accent, and for that matter mine, but that they would be thought problematic
> for a few students in Arizona.
> The real problem, of course, is that Arizonian educational bureaucracy
> equated having an accent with lacking proficiency and fluency, which is
> sheer idiocy. Some of my South Asians colleagues are the most eloquent
> English speakers I know, and a few have spent their higher education at
> illustrious institutions like Oxford and Harvard. But they, too, most likely
> may not pass muster to teach English, lacking what one might call a
> "domestic" accent.
> Worse, beyond the corridors of learning, under existing Arizona practice
> everyone who has a foreign accent is an automatic suspect. Eloquence does
> not matter, so it would seem, in Arizona. Experience and qualifications mean
> nothing. Have a foreign accent and you may be unemployable, and worse,
> automatically suspect.
> The police state of Arizona could very well be the norm for many other
> states, with 55 percent of Americans recently polled supporting Arizona's
> drastic stance on immigration.
> And despite the fact that U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton blocked the most
> controversial parts of Arizona's new immigration law SB1070, the McCarthy
> era of informants and suspicion has already existed long before it went into
> effect on Thursday. "Under Arizona law, even victims of domestic violence
> can't have access to state-funded English or GED classes if they are
> undocumented immigrants," reports New America Media's Valeria Fernandez.
> "Parents are questioned when applying for state health care benefits for
> their U.S. citizen children; if they volunteer information to a caseworker
> that indicates they are in the U.S. illegally, they are reported to ICE."
> I shudder to think that not only might I not be qualified to teach in
> Arizona, I could be stopped and searched for having an accent. For under
> duress my tongue often becomes unruly and my accent thickens, giving my
> foreignness away and pronouncing me interminably alien.
> Yet what is an accent, and who really doesn't have one? "You're American,
> aren't you?" I am often asked when I travel overseas, including to my
> homeland, Vietnam. My Vietnamese, wouldn't you know, has a distinctive
> Californian accent.
> The American motto e pluribus unum -- out of many, one -- is currently put
> up for scrutiny. For when a society fails to celebrate and respect
> differences and goes to the opposite extreme, when it hides behind the
> apparatus of a draconian policy, one that has no check and balance, the only
> logical outcome is injustice and cruelty.
> Tom Zurinskas, USA - CT20, TN3, NJ33, FL7+
> see phonetic spelling
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list