Relation between accent and discrimination

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In the history of mankind, language has always played a major role, both on the communicative and on the social level. It can happen that language differences are perceived as a barrier and in the worst case this can lead to discrimination. In this article we address the relation between accent and discrimination.

Already in ancient times, the “otherness” of other populations was defined by the way they spoke. The Roman term “barbarians” was used for people from the north and originally meant “stutterers”. Similarly, the Greek term aglossos for “strangers” means “speechless”. Because one population could not understand the other, they assumed that they could not speak. That’s like a guitarist assuming that a pianist couldn’t make music. Not so logical, right? Nevertheless, it is still so entrenched in society that deviations from one’s own norm could be marked as “different”. 

by Asia Mugliari

How are accent and discrimination connected?

Accordingly, linguistic characteristics, such as accent, can also be responsible for discriminatory actions. People whose way of speaking deviates from the German accent pattern can thus be classified as non-native German speakers. And because we like rules so much, this deviation is interpreted as a “mistake” and the accent is thus connoted as negative.

For this reason, there are people who encounter difficulties because of their accent, for example in a professional context, because they are judged to be linguistically incompetent, although this is not the case at all. But it also happens that certain accents are associated with more prestige than others and lead to better professional opportunities. In the first case it is negative discrimination, and in the second case it is positive discrimination. Both forms of discrimination are called linguicism in linguistics.

Accent means linguistic diversity

At sylby, we think it is important to give this phenomenon a name and to raise awareness of the issue, to deal with it and to critically question our own assumptions. For us, linguistic diversity is a treasure, an added value, and we want to support and promote it as solidly as possible.

At the same time, we are aware that linguistically discriminatory attitudes do exist in our society. We cannot, must not and will not keep quiet about this, but talk about it and reflect on it. We not only help you to achieve an easily understandable pronunciation, but also to better cope with a reality in which discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics unfortunately takes place.

On the one hand, by showing you how to work on your pronunciation difficulties, and on the other hand, by strengthening your self-confidence and encouraging you that everything is wonderful with your accent when you are in peace with it: you don’t have to eliminate it, you can cultivate it – just as you feel most comfortable. Because in the end, it doesn’t always have to be you who has to improve your own pronunciation or self-confidence (or whatever). 

Support against discrimination

State support for linguistic diversity in society must also take place in order to fundamentally address the problem of linguicisms. Also native German speakers can make more of an effort to practice listening to other accents or even to engage with the languages that are present in their environment. So it’s also about others having to learn. You can point it out to them, and in case they are transgressive and discriminatory, you have the right to report it as such. There are several places and meanwhile also several apps where it is possible to report experiences of discrimination.

For example, in Berlin there is AnDi, the anti-discrimination app, where you can report cases of discrimination, look for help and at the same time get informed about your rights. You can also find the most important anti-discrimination offices in Germany by federal state and the national counselling centre of the federal government.

Become part of the 'Community'

And in the app sylby there will be a section called “Community” where experiences of German learners can be collected and shared very soon. This can empower you and show you that many people are experiencing similar things to you. We at sylby won’t leave you alone: send us your experiences and, with your permission, they can be published in the “Community” section or on our social media platforms.

Curious now? Download the app and try sylby for yourself!
Team sylby
Team sylby