Other NPR listeners may have heard this segmenttoday. An excerpt:
So how important is elocution in modern day life? Does it flavor your opinion of somebody’s intellect if they speak with a thick accent, be it ‘Jersey Shore’ or ‘Hee-Haw’ or Ebonics or Hispanic? Do you think it’s racist/classist to not hire somebody for a phone rep job because they sound too “Shaniqua from the projects” or “Julio from the barrio” or “Ruby Luanne from the trailer park?”
Personally I’m more inclined to judge somebody who should speak proper English. I used to cringe whenever George Bush said “nukular”. What made me cringe even more was when people criticized the critics of “nukular” as “elitist” or “classist” (Bush was the son of a frigging multimillionaire senator who went to an Ivy League school, the man is not some sharecropper’s son who struggled his way to the top and never went to finishing school!).
I’m more forgiving when it’s somebody who did grow up on the bad side of town or the lower part of the socioeconomic spectrum, but even then I think they can help a lot of it, and whether it’s racist/classist/regionalist to have a prejudice about certain accents and grammer it exists nonetheless and they’re only doing themselves harm by having an arrogance about it. Talk any way you like when you’re at home or with your friends, but speak professionally when you’re speaking professionally- it’s not that hard.
My own voice is a bit odd. I had a speech impediment as a child- not so much a stutter or a stammer as a tendency to majorly trip over words. I found I wouldn’t do this if I would talk like “movie people”- such as, in fact, Rex Harrison from My Fair Lady or, more particularly, Doctor Doolittle (which came on TV all the time when I was a kid)- I listened to both soundtracks until the records wore out. I have an ability with accents and to this day if I start to stammer or trip over words I- completely unconsciously- slip into a slightly different speaking voice, and ultimately I really don’t have much of an accent of any kind. I’ve been placed as English, midwesterner, New Englander, and southerner all on the same day, and in school kids used to ask where I was from; I’d give them the hint “we grew up together and our mothers are cousins”; foreign exchange students thought it funny that “the others in class sound Dukes of Hazzard, you sound NBC nightly news”. (Me speaking.)
Most people aren’t as neurotic or odd in their speech as I am though. I’ve often wondered just how much of a cultural choice the way we speak is. In the south I’ve known very few black people who can’t perfectly mimic an uptight upper-class white person speaking and I’ve known very few whites who can’t perfectly mimic Black English vernacular.
So anyway, how important do you think good grammer and elocution is and how important do you think it should be? Do you think its discrimination to require somebody to speak clearly and “properly” on a job? Or, for that matter, share any other observations or questions about speaking.