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Michigan State Prof Says Telling Someone You Don’t Understand Their Accent is ‘Linguistic Racism’

Michigan State Prof Says Telling Someone You Don’t Understand Their Accent is ‘Linguistic Racism’

“perpetuated against individuals on the basis of their language use”

It’s amazing how people on the left can invent new forms of racism.

The College Fix reports:

Michigan State prof: Telling someone you can’t understand their accent is ‘linguistic racism’

A linguistics and education professor from Michigan State University claims that telling somebody that you can’t understand him is an example of “linguistic racism.”

More specifically, it’s “racist” to ask a person to repeat what he said because you “don’t understand [his] thick accent” (does anyone actually say that … especially the “thick” part?).

Another example is someone “openly say[ing] only English is to be spoken in the workplace” despite the presence of multilingual employees.

So says Professor Peter De Costa, who in an interview with MSU Today defines “linguistic racism” as “acts of racism […] perpetuated against individuals on the basis of their language use.”

De Costa places some of the blame for current linguistic racism on the outgoing presidential administration due to its “jingoistic sentiments that target speakers who do not use the dominant language.” Those who don’t (or can’t) speak English, the prof says, are “perceived as being unpatriotic and unwilling to embrace American values.”

There’s also the president’s “false labeling” of COVID-19 as the “Wuhan Virus” which “fueled xenophobic resentment” against Chinese and Chinese-Americans. Such gave the virus an “ethnolinguistic quality,” De Costa says, which subjected that demographic to “blatant dehumanization” and “unnecessary ostracization.”


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Morning Sunshine | January 10, 2021 at 10:25 am

language is for communication. if you cannot understand one another, communication cannot happen. It is not racist. It is courtesy.

I work at a college campus where about 50% of the students are Hispanic, and many of them have accents. The students are more likely to mention their accents than anyone else.

Bless his little heart, someone please tell Pepe that everything is about discrimination and that racism is just a tiny little sub-paragraph of the much larger reality of living in the real world.

Unless the “professor” clearly understands every possible language/dialect/accent, he is – by his own definition – racist.

My mother was born in Latvia, so she had a heavy accent. I did not hear it since I grew up hearing her voice and it was natural to me. A while back, I took her to a medical specialist who was from Greece and also with a heavy accent.

We all spoke English, but I had to translate between Mom and the doctor. We all thought it was humorous.

I concur that language is for communication and asking to repeat something is just being courteous. I am not insulted to have to repeat something to make sure they understand. But I would be insulted if someone just assumed what I said without asking for clarification.

What would this professor label the need for a person asking another what a particular slang word meant?

So what am I supposed to do when I have no idea what my doctor just said to me? This actually happened to me a few months ago. After three or four attempts, with me being increasingly apologetic about asking her to repeat the word yet again, she finally wrote it down and all was clear. It was an important word in the context, and there was no way I would ever have guessed it no matter how many times she said it.

Richard Aubrey | January 10, 2021 at 4:25 pm

The holders of advanced degrees are obviously awfully busy destroying the credibility of the holders of advanced degrees.

So a guy having a heart attack walks into an Emergency Department and announces in perfect English but with a very heavy accent, “Please help me! I think I’m having a heart attack!”

Not understanding him and not wanting to be accused of “linguistic racism”, everyone pretends to not hear him and walks away.

The guy dies and the next day his wife sues everyone in the Emergency Department for being a racist.

Moral of the story: You’re a damned racist if you do, and a damned racist if you don’t.

America is the perverbial Melting Pot, and unbeknowst to these racists we share the pot with, there isn’t going to be a “Reset” but a “Reckoning”.

George_Kaplan | January 10, 2021 at 8:18 pm

De Costa lives in his own world. Terms like Wuhan Virus, Wu Flu, or Wuhan Pneumonia are not American exclusive – such phrases are used in Asia too. Are Asians racist? Do they seek to create ethnolinguistic qualities? Or is it fine for them to do so, but only objectionable when Trump or other Americans do so?

As for saying someone has a thick accent and asking them to repeat, again the professor can’t have studied foreign languages. Saying someone has a heavy accent and asking for them to repeat what they said is quite common.

The Friendly Grizzly | January 11, 2021 at 7:10 am

The word “racism” is so worn out! The professor is saying that a red-haired, freckle-faced American asks a red-haired, freckle-faced Dubliner for directions, and when asking for a repeat because of the accent, the questioner is racist?

Professor, please…!

DeCosta is an absolute axx. He should not be allowed any job as an educator.

“Those who don’t (or can’t) speak English, the prof says, are “perceived as being unpatriotic and unwilling to embrace American values.””

I wonder if Peter De Costa knows there is an English test required to become a citizen of the United States? So who is he talking about ?

    Milhouse in reply to stylin19. | January 11, 2021 at 5:42 pm

    First of all, if you’re over a certain age you don’t have to take the test. Also minors being naturalized with their parents are exempt.

    Second, the test only checks that you can speak English, not that you can be readily understood; an accent is not a hindrance to passing it.

Is it more racist (1) for me to admit my trouble understanding someone’s spoken words, or (2) for me to ignore completely the person whose spoken words I did not understand? I often ignore people because I do not understand their mumbles. Due to my own hearing issues, I need clear enunciation and somewhat slow speech. Should I just exaggerate my hearing issues a bit and insist that everything be written down due to my hearing impairments?

I have trouble understanding many Hispanics, Asians, Europeans, Middle Easterners. Pretty much all non-American-born English speakers. Including Brits.

And of the American-born English-speakers, there is a large racial group, some members of which often slur their words and rarely enunciate clearly. And they also use words that I do not understand in the context used — my English is static, but some people’s English is evolving and changing.

And I have no idea what a Cockney person is saying with rhyming slang!

If that makes me racist, OK, maybe I need to insist on everything being done in sign or in writing.

The near-universal use of masks for the past year deprives me of lip-reading, which provided some limited assistance to comprehension.

Nod your head,; say “Gotta go,” and just walk away.

The story and the comments above leave unstated the problems with this argument. If this professor succeeds in establishing the doctrine of “linguistic racism” then:

1) anyone on campus who makes a comment about another person’s accent is guilty of “hate speech” and will be held “accountable” by the anti-racism mob.
2) eventually, scholars will try to argue that “linguistic racism” is not protected by the First Amendment.
3) Professors should not comment upon or grade students based on their ability to enunciate English correctly — even in performance classes such as Shakespearian acting or Chorus.
4) Linguistic professors who specialize in “liguistic racism” should be added to the team required to teach campus-wide required anti-racism classes, thereby guaranteeing their department tuition funding for a popular class at a time that enrollment in linguistic classes is falling.

By definition, this comment, this story, this website and all of its readers should be publicly denounced and shamed as “linguistic racist.” I can state all of the above with certainty even though I have never heard of the term before.

So, when I travel to another country and they complain about my american accent when I speak their language, they are being racist to me. You think I should try telling them that? Lol