The way someone speaks tells a lot about a person. Where you were raised, how you learned, your geographic or cultural background. But not who you are or what you can do.
Accent is a stereotype that is either overlooked and ignored or blatantly addressed, and in either case, our precognitions of a person based on their voice and speech can make or break a social relationship.
I was always afraid growing up of picking up a West Virginian accent. Those in my class from southern or more rural counties were always made fun of for asking for a “pin” instead of a “pen” or “crown” rather than a “cray-on”, and of course being from the “Boonies” was a badge of shame (at least early on).
British accents are smart, Spanish accents are sexy, Australian accents are audacious, New York accents are rude. With variation.
Of course none of these are true, but one of the challenges of more community diversification. I know I tend to lose the ability to perceive the more minute factors in the modulation of a person’s voice when that voice or its accent is new or unfamiliar, and it is a conscious effort for me to understand the meanings that person is giving through their speech.
But the reality is that accent remains a primary factor in peoples’ initial perceptions of one another, and I’ve heard stories of friends whose accents have caused them or their family trouble, from not getting jobs to being labeled a foreigner or non-citizen. And I am likewise going to be judged for the accent I surely have in any other language I attempt.
The fact that I’ve worried so much about this used to be kind of embarrassing, but I realize more and more the benefit of such awareness.
I’ll continue to think about this and do my research, but for now it’s just a thought.