For most people, the term discrimination is associated with matters of race, gender, sexuality, and other issues that have traditionally been proven contentious. However, there is another class of discrimination commonly referred to as linguistic discrimination. John Baugh and Margret Pusher carried out a study on the topic, and they discovered that people are often discriminated based on their accents more when it comes to making calls to certain companies.
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They discovered that some companies, for example, would screen their calls if they deduced that a caller was nonwhite from his/her accent were more likely not to return their call (Baugh 156). Peter Trudgill one of Britain’s foremost citizens discusses the fact that his father was often forced to conceal his accent as he spoke as he had come to realize some doors would remain closed to him. I can relate to that in an indirect way, one of my closest friends is part Arabic and Part White, but he spent most of his early years in the UAE.
Even though his Arabic roots are barely discernible, he complains that he gets discriminated more than full Chinese who were brought up in the US. The heavy Chinese accent he claims has caused him to be overlooked at service stations, hospitals and he has twice in the airport been taken through repeat “random” security checks. He tells me that when talking on the phone, he finds that he is more easily dismissed than most of his friends.
He once went for an interview for a part-time job in a call center but was rejected. Later, a friend working in the same company told him the panel feared his accent would make the client feel like they were not being served by a very competent person. Unlike Trudgill’s father, my friend’s accent is very pronounced and trying to hide, it only makes it more apparent. However, he is a stoic and optimistic individual, and fortunately, not everyone judges him based on it.
It is ironic that in non-American English speaking countries, people talking “American” tend to be discriminated and challenged to speak “English” English. In most cases, the British English is assumed to be standard with the rest of the variations, including even American English, seen as non-standard.
From a linguist perspective, there is technically no language that is better than another. Standard language often carries overt prestige while non-standard can be a source of discrimination or even embarrassment. Ultimately, there are people that feel being born in a linguistically “correct” environment since that is the only determining factor in one’s brand of English is a mark of superiority and that they can look down on others.
While there is nothing wrong with being proud of how one speaks, there is no linguistic or even logical ground to discriminate against someone because of the way they construct sentences or pronounce words. In most cases, they have had no more control over their linguistic growth than they have had their skin color, height, or even the family and place they were born.
While linguistic discrimination may appear mild or less serious than the traditional sorts of discrimination may, in reality, it is just as unfair and uncalled for as racial, religious and any other kind of discrimination that exists.
Baugh, John. “Linguistic profiling.” Black linguistics: Language, society, and politics in Africa and the Americas 23.2 (2003): 155-168. Print.