The rain in Spain won’t be falling mainly on the plain after all, at least not at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Tennessee-based research facility canceled what it had billed as a “Southern accent reduction” class amid employee backlash; for some staff, it came off as a little too “My Fair Lady: Appalachia.”
“Feel confident in a meeting when you need to speak with a more neutral American accent, and be remembered for what you say and not how you say it,” reads an email sent to thousands of staff members last week, advertising the new course. “In this course you will learn to recognize the pronunciation and grammar differences that make your speech sound Southern, and learn what to do so you can neutralize it through a technique called code-switching.”
The weekly course, set to run through mid-September, was offered on a voluntary basis only (with an $850 price tag). But some employees were insulted by the premise of the course and wording of the email, and complained. The lab subsequently called off the class.
David Keim, spokesman for Oak Ridge, which is the Energy Department’s biggest research facility and home to the Titan supercomputer, said the lab regularly offers accent modification classes for its many employees who are non-native English speakers. The lab employs some 4,400 people from 90 countries, as well as from across the U.S., and their work is highly technical. That makes professional development designed to help international researchers communicate more clearly and efficiently in high demand, he said.
Or Americans, especially the snotty elite classes not living in east Tennessee who are going to be interacting with ORNL employees, could just get over the idea of a proper accent and be OK with someone if their accent is from southern Appalachia, Rhode Island, Texas, or Minnesota. While obviously working with non-native speakers is a good idea that empowers the individual, embarrassing your employees because of where they are from and how they grew up makes the individual ashamed of themselves. Not everyone has to sound like they are on TV. This is real classism.