An accent, according to www.dictionary.com, is defined as “Vocal prominence or emphasis
given to a particular syllable, word, or phrase.” Around the world, different cultures have
different accents because of their language and the way they say words. In Allison Joseph’s “On
Being Told I Don’t Speak Like a Black Person”, this description is shown. Joseph uses her
mother as an example of having an accent and her mother was from Jamaica. In World War I,
250,000 workers from the Caribbean were recruited and 90,000 of them were Jamaican. In
addition, after WWI, there were many waves of Jamaican peoples that would come to America.
This poem gives background information about the author’s mother and then moves into the
authors opinion on how we should “listen and prize the inflections, / never assuming how any
person will sound” (66-67). In “On Being Told I Don’t Speak Like a Black Person”, Joseph
argues that society should move from people looking at each other’s different skin colors and
voice inflection, to more meaningful characteristics.
Every language has its own way of saying different things and depending on the culture,
and geography, the way they say their words can vary. This poem shows examples of a Jamaican
school room, “Trained in England, they tried/ to force their pupils to speak/ like Eliza Doolittle
after/ her transformation” (6-9), is a quote that shows that the teachers wanted their students to
speak “properly” and because of their accent they didn’t speak exactly how the teacher wanted
them to. This example is significant to the topic because it shows that the geography of the
classroom was in Jamaica, but the teachers were trained to speak with English accents and
expected their students to speak the way they were taught. Classrooms here in the US are not as
intimidating as those in other countries. Joseph says “Mother never lost her accent” (12). This is
saying that her mother has an accent from when she grew up in Jamaica and she kept that accent
throughout her life. The accents that someone grows up with can stay with them for the rest of
their life, or they can lose it. Someone can pick up on an accent over time or can gain an accent
just from hearing it around them. Accents affect the daily lives of everyone and create
stereotypes and questions about how a person should speak.
In this country, there is a daily conversation about...