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A 5-minute read
Language Bias and Discrimination
When we think of discrimination, we immediately think of racism, sexism, or religious discrimination.
We usually do not think that people are discriminated against because of how they speak or because of their accents. But that does happen because people have language and accent biases.
NastyaSensei | Pexels
For example, some people have a speech disorder (or problem) called stuttering. If you suffer from stuttering, you repeat the beginning of some words many times. Sometimes we stutter when we get nervous, but stutterers do it even when they are calm.
President Joe Biden stutters sometimes. He is a very smart person, but people think he sounds unintelligent when he stutters. Other people have a hard time getting jobs because they stutter or have other disorders that make them sound different. This is discrimination because they can still be very good at their jobs.
Consequences of Linguistic Biases
Linguistic biases have consequences. Some people have a negative linguistic bias against others. They believe that you are stupid or sound funny because you speak differently or have an accent. When you bully or make fun of others, you cause harm to them. They have low self-esteem and feel frustrated. They are afraid to speak, so they feel isolated. They can experience stress and anxiety. This shows that linguistic biases and discrimination cause problems to people’s mental and physical health.
Language Variation and Linguistic Bias
English has many language varieties, for example, American English, British English, Indian English, Australian English, and so on. Even in the same country, there are regional differences. For example, in the United States people from New York, California, or Texas have different accents and use different vocabulary. Sometimes people discriminate against each other because they use these language varieties.
Some people from California or New York perceive a Southern accent as friendly but unintelligent. People from Texas perceive someone with a strong New York accent as a “gangster.” Many Americans perceive someone with a Spanish accent as friendly but unintelligent and uneducated.
When you perceive someone as friendly or uneducated, it does not mean that they really are friendly or uneducated.
The language variety you speak has to do with your life circumstances (for example, where you are born or where you grow up). How you speak does not have anything to do with your intelligence or personality. However, depending on the linguistic bias people have, they sometimes discriminate against others just because they sound different.
Meryl Streep is a famous actor today, but people discriminated against her early in her acting career because of her New Jersey accent. Some people told her perhaps she should change her accent, but she refused because her accent is part of her identity.
Ed Sheeran had difficulties speaking when he was a child. Today he is a world-famous singer. Marilyn Monroe had difficulties pronouncing the R-sound, especially when she was nervous and under stress.
We can find many examples of people who overcome language discrimination and are successful. However, there are many others who do not have the same experience. We just do not hear about them because they are not famous.
Ed Sheeran | Public Domain | Flickr
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