Regional accent research confirms language discrimination

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Dutch-Moroccans

I’ve been working with French Europeans lately and not 15 minutes goes by before someone points out my ‘charming’ French Canadian accent. The same group of people also work with North Africans and Dutch people who speak French but don’t point out their accents for fear of sounding either like racists toward non-Caucasians or insulting the white Dutch managers. It’s OK for a card-carrying French person to tell me as a white person from an ex colony that I have an accent, but they wouldn’t dare tell a black person from Senegal the same thing.

I explained this later down the pub to a French-speaking Dutch person who claims she doesn’t judge people by their accent right after telling me I had one. I asked her if she tells Dutch people who obviously have an ethnic background that they have an accent in Dutch and she says she wouldn’t do that, but didn’t tell me why. Someone then tried to explain that it’s because a ‘decent’ Dutch accent makes you accepted by the white Dutch majority, and recent research shows that a heavy ‘ethnic’ accent puts you at the bottom rung of the ladder where you’ll find the Dutch-Moroccans and their accent.

The Moroccan accent is said to have no prestige whatsoever and is seen as negative on all fronts by the predominantly white students interviewed in a recent survey, even though other ethnic groups and the native Dutch use words and pronunciations from this ethnolect. Researcher Stefan Grondelaers, who has a Flemish accent, says that Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb and comedian Najib Amhali, both Dutch-Moroccans, have had to “limit their Moroccan accent to a minimum to get ahead”.

Researcher at the Radboud University in Nijmegen and linked to scientific research into Dutch regional accents, Grondelaers explains that we use stereotypes to avoid collecting information about others that we don’t intend to use, and this is part of our evolutionary process. He goes on to explain that when people judge each other’s accents based solely on what they hear, they make snap judgements.

A Dutch television program (kicks in at 25:10, in Dutch) that discusses the discrimination Dutch people with regional accents face would have been handy in the pub yesterday. A part of the video has two women in booths that cannot see each other. A younger woman with an accent from Drenthe reads the news to an older woman from the Randstad area, the ‘prestige accent of the country’. The older woman, knowingly enjoying her ‘standard’ accent, says the younger woman sounds like a farmer with a bad perm, big glasses, bad clothing, and whole bunch of other stereotypes that she couldn’t possibly know. Grondelaers explains that the woman with the Randstad accent can look down on others because all other accents are less prestigious than hers.

Another part of the video shows a Dutch-Morrocan man trying to get a test drive for a car who is treated very differently on the phone than a white Dutch speaker. It’s so bad that the person on the other end does nothing to keep the conversation going. The Dutchman gets everything he wants and actual conversation. Grondelaers basically states that people are simply “racist beasts that walk upright.”

(Link: www.kennislink.nl, Photo of Djellabas by Roel Wijnants, some rights reserved)

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