Unclear on American Campus: What the Foreign Teacher Said

Ronald Kephart rkephart at unf.edu
Sun Jun 26 16:24:28 UTC 2005

At 2:33 PM +0100 6/26/05, Anthea Fraser Gupta wrote:

>I'm horrified at the idea that speech therapy is used to change 
>accent -- this is a job for an elocutionist, not a speech therapist, 
>surely, as Ron said...

Anthea, And that's only the tip of the iceberg. Here in Florida, USA 
(the state that gave the world W the first time), we sometimes have 
African-American kids sent to Special Education because they speak 
some variety of Black English. But I'll tell you an even better 

Some years back we were interviewing candidates for a position 
teaching French. One interviewee was an African-American woman from 
Alabama or somewhere. Her French was near-native, with a slight hint 
of West Africa due to her having studied some over there. No problem. 
But the trouble came when, in the English portion of the interview 
(it was a department of English and other languages), she pronounced 
"ask" as "aks." That killed her chances with the English faculty, and 
she didn't get hired. And I am not kidding. (For those who may not 
know, by the way, "aks" is the historically "correct" pronunciation; 
the Old English form was "acsian" if memory serves.)

Anyway... perhaps because of the sort of person I am, I have come to 
the position, which I believe was Jim Sledd's and which is expressed 
more recently in Rosina Lippi-Green's article "Language ideology and 
language prejudice" (in Finegan and Rickford's Language in the USA, 
Cambridge 2004), that the onus for getting therapy and changing 
should be laid not on those who have "accents," but rather on those 
who make these kinds of judgements about people based on their speech 
varieties. This is the message I try to pound into the English 
language arts teachers I have in my classes every semester; I'd like 
to think I'm not totally alone...


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