FW: Teaching With a Kentucky Accent

Frank Abate abatefr at EARTHLINK.NET
Thu Dec 5 10:08:38 UTC 2002

Stephani Hardin said:
In one of the Education classes I took last Fall A Professor made a remark
class that has bothered me to this day.  He said, "Some of you in here speak
with a heavy Eastern Kentucky accent, and you need to think seriously about
working on changing it if you want to teach English."  I find this to be
offensive and judgmental.  An accent has no bearing on accepted forms of
speech.  (I use the word 'accepted' rather than 'correct', because on whose
standards do we even judge forms of speech)  To ask someone to change an
is ridiculous when you consider the fact that we all, regardless of where we
are from, have one.  This Professor displays a preference for one accent
another, and he suggests I change something that is a part of who I am.  Why
should I compromise my heritage to suit the standards of someone with
linguistic prejudices?

You were wise to take the position you did.  Stick by it.  Your prof is
absolutely WRONG.  (I would even add a swear word or two.)

How do we brook such nonsense?  And in a college classroom -- truly

This reminds me of an incident at a DSNA meeting some years ago.  A young
scholar was addressing the meeting (at DSNA, all papers are "plenary"),
perhaps 80 folks were in the auditorium.  In the course of his paper he said
something "incorrect" (perhaps it was hopefully).  He paused and sheepishly
apologized for using this frowned-upon word.  At the end of his paper he sat
down, and Sidney Landau, who was moderating that session, got up to intro
the next speaker.  But first he made a comment to the effect that if there
is ANY group of people in America where one can pretty much speak as they
please, and with impunity, it is the DSNA.  Truer words were never spoken at
a DSNA -- we DSNAers are all (well, most of us, anyway) language liberals.
(I'm a radical -- I believe that everything is OK as to one's idiolect and
regional dialect.)

One should be aware of the potential reaction of given audience members.  On
the radio, yes, many people will think that an Eastern KY accent sounds
ill-educated.  Too bad for them, but they will still think that.  You can,
however, win (many of) them over by saying good, smart, sensible things, no
matter what the accent.

Frank Abate

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