The Terrible Break-up of Accents and Identity

web_jordan_luther_lightBreak-ups suck! I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head that receives pleasure from a break-up—at least a break-up where one is directly involved. Break-ups are emotionally taxing and require a peculiar level of grieving of what each partner has grown to love, or sometimes despise, about the other. Yes, break-ups often conjure examples of the failed pursuit for an intimate relationship with another person; however, I would like to expand our familiar definition of a “break-up” to include any sentimental loss one may experience—both the concrete and abstract. For example, the decay of a close friendship, the absence of what was once an easily accessible child-like imagination, and the transition from high school to college are all examples of this expanded definition of “break-up.” With this analogy in mind, I would like to use this image as a means to help narrate the growing separation of accents from identity and the struggle for belonging.

Language has always fascinated me. While it is impressive that there are trillions of different combinations of words in order to represent one’s thoughts, I believe my fascination with language as a whole is much more sociological. One’s language can provide insight into another’s ethnic, cultural, and geographical background. What I find even more fascinating is that these clues are not limited to different languages, such as English, Arabic, and Spanish. Rather these clues can be gathered from the

multitude of different dialects within one language, too! Call me a nerd, but this is SUPER exciting! Then again, maybe there is a deeper root to this fascination? Maybe this is steeped in my own experience surrounded by a rich exposure to the Southern United States—more specifically, a South- western Virginian—dialect?

My Southern accent is a part of who I am: My accent represents my childhood. My accent represents my family. My accent represents my cultural and geographical context. My accent represents my attachment to the Blue Ridge Mountains. My accent represents my love for old time and bluegrass music. I will forever carry with me the slow rhythm, cadence, and drawl of a Southwestern Virginian accent. If nothing else, the way I enunciate my vowel sounds will give it away. While I have a high regard for my accent and what it represents to me, I also live in this state of fear for what my accent may represent to other people.

I have come to the unfortunate realization that a Southern accent does not conjure all of these positive images for some people. Some people associate the sound of a Southern accent with a lack of formal education. On the other side of the spectrum, some people hear the sound of the Southern accent as jovial and humorous. The bottom line is that those with Southern accents often struggle with other people taking them seriously— this is especially true in academia. It is this lack of cultural awareness and sensitivity that has caused so many of us to adapt, adjust, and sometimes abandon our accent and compromise our identity in the process: thus the agonizing break-up of our accent and identity begins. However, this trend does not and should not have to continue.

I am appealing to every student, administrator, professor, and faculty member for your support. Let us encourage a reconciling effort between accents and the identities that are interconnected with them. May we listen to one another with an eager ear and desire to learn more about the context of others. Let us strive to make sure that no one has to compromise his or her accent and identity in order to feel like he or she belongs on our campus.

-Jordan Luther, Contributing Writer


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