Is my accent a crime? (UNCLASSIFIED)

Mullins, Bill AMRDEC Bill.Mullins at US.ARMY.MIL
Mon Aug 2 18:17:14 UTC 2010

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On
Behalf Of
> Joel S. Berson
> Sent: Monday, August 02, 2010 10:23 AM
> Subject: Re: Is my accent a crime?
> May I suggest modestly that there is a difference between speaking
> accented English and speaking English unintelligibly?  (And even
> native-born Americans can accomplish the latter.)
> And not so modestly, if the Arizona law were aimed at intelligibility
> (and could define it reasonably), I might find it acceptable.  But I
> suspect that is not its motivation.

The earliest real reporting on the policy (as opposed to the anonymous
rant cross-posted by Tom Z, written by Andrew Q. Lam:
75527  ) is this Wall Street Journal article:

It says "The education department has dispatched evaluators to audit
teachers across the state on things such as comprehensible
pronunciation, correct grammar and good writing."  Comprehensibility is,
I hope, acceptable to Joel.

The enforcement of fluency standards is part of the No Child Left Behind
Act: "That law states that for a school to receive federal funds,
students learning English must be instructed by teachers fluent in the

AZ schools had several problems that included:  in some classes,
instruction was not given in English; "State auditors have reported to
the district that some teachers pronounce words such as violet as
"biolet," think as "tink" and swallow the ending sounds of words, as
they sometimes do in Spanish"; a kindergarten in which 2/3s of the
teachers couldn't speak English clearly enough to qualify to teach
English to non-native speakers.

Note that Lam misrepresents the law, as least as it was described by the
WSJ.  "Have a foreign accent and you may be unemployable" -- not so, you
just won't qualify to teach English to students who don't speak it as a
native language. "Arizonian educational bureaucracy equated having an
accent with lacking proficiency and fluency" -- no, they are separate
issues, and are treated as such in the law.  And so does Andrei
Codrescu, whom he quotes: "My last 40 years of teaching would have never
happened if the Arizona law had been the law of the land in 1966."
Codrescu teaches English and Comparative Lit at LSU, not English as a
Second Language to primary/secondary students.

And neither Lam nor Codrescu mention that the first result of being
found to have a thick accent would be training for the accented teacher,
then reassignment to a class other than English for Non-native speakers.
Firing is not required.

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

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