Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Speech Training: Does Your Accent Matter?

I am a strong supporter of the idea that your accent doesn't matter; it's the clarity of your speech and your message that's important. But looking at the news lately, it seems that I am in the minority.

Every headline has something to do with vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin's accent. Is it real? Is it fake? Does it sound educated or uneducated? Where does it come from? What will it mean for the election?

All I have to say is that if an accent is enough to tip the election scales (either way), America is in even more trouble than we thought.

It does bring up the important issue though that an accent, if too heavy or different from the norm, can be a distraction - so much so that no one listens to the message. This in itself is motivation to work on one's diction and pronunciation.

Many people have cut Palin down for lax pronunciation. For example, she drops her 'g' in words like 'going' so they sound more like 'goin.' Plenty of Americans speak this way on a daily basis. The problem here is that Americans don't expect to hear this informal speaking style in a formal debate or televised interview.

It's not so much that the accent is 'wrong' but that, according to a large number of people, it is inappropriate for the situation. This then turns our discussion into more of a social debate than a linguistic one.

Everything comes down to knowing your audience. Presidential and vice presidential candidates have scores of advisers who not only tell them what to say, but also how to say it. Palin was chosen because the Republican camp felt that she would appeal most to the American audience. After the backlash against her, they may begin to feel otherwise.

Here are a selection of articles that have hit the press recently:

Everything You Heard Is Wrong - New York Times
Pinker on Palin's "nucular" - Language Log
Palin's accent takes center stage - Politico
What Kind of Accent Does Sarah Palin Have? - Slate
Sarah Palin's accent explained - The Swamp
MoJo Audio: Linguist Robin Lakoff Analyzes Sarah Palin's Accent - Mother Jones (podcast)

What are your views? Let me know by leaving your comments here!

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