Thursday, May 13, 2010

Accentuate This

Arizona’s xenophobia continues:

The Arizona Department of Education recently began telling school districts that teachers whose spoken English it deems to be heavily accented or ungrammatical must be removed from classes for students still learning English, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The crackdown applies to classes deemed to have students who are learning English, mostly as a second language. Federal No Child Left Behind regulations call for students to be taught by persons fluent in English. The determination of fluency is left up to individual states.

Arizona seems to think that includes accents. Of course, they are wrong – accents do not by themselves measure fluency. And almost every person who is a native speaker of another language is going to have an accent when speaking English, unless they learned English at a young age.

The target is those teachers who speak with a Hispanic accent. But having an accent is relative. If you’re from Maine or New England, you have an accent that’s noticeable if you’re in Mississippi, and vice versa. (And it’s not just regional; sometimes it breaks down to neighborhoods, especially if you’re from parts of New York City.) A lot of native English speakers from other countries — i.e. the Caribbean or India — have accents compared to what passes for American English without regard to regional differences. But it doesn’t mean they’re speaking it incorrectly; to them, we’re the ones with the accent. Are we now going to have language police along with the border patrol? “Show me your papers, and repeat after me: ‘Mairzy doats and dozy doats…'”

Of course this ruling in Arizona is ridiculous on its face; here’s another example of “limit government” advocates proposing a Big Brother solution to homogenize the population. Besides, accents or different patterns of speech are as valuable an asset to a cultural identity as faith and family.

Can you imagine what would happen if there was a crackdown on accents in other places, like Miami or New Jersey? Fuggedabowdit.