Just listened to one of those highly stereotyped and utterly embarrassing radio moments. Each morning, the radio station I tune in pays the bills of listeners who sent them the respective bills. Today, they picked up a woman with a 'strange' name. Well, strange according to an English-speaking environment because it sounded Russian. So, the anchors keep on rambling about the name; they're not able to pronounce it, so they masquerade what sounds to them as a Russian accent. And they have a very good time with this: hey, it's not everyday you get to make fun of a Russian name.
Now, here's the irony: the lady calls in. "Oh, you have a Russian name" the achors are quick to confirm their stereotypes, anticipating some fun in the air with the name. But, surprise, surprise, the lady answers in a perfect English: "Yes, it is" and she goes on minding her own business. "At least we got the accent right", the anchors reply.
Duh?!? Well, in fact, they didn't; but that's another issue. The point is that, in spite of living in a multicultural society (hey, it's North America!), there still is a mainstream expectation that if your name sounds 'different' (read not Anglo-Saxon), you're not from 'here'. I've blogged in the past about the relation between 'language' and 'dialects' and 'accents' - a relation specific to the age of nationalism, where language becomes homogenized, swallows all other similar languages under the label 'dialects' and, thanks to an intellectual elite, becomes canonical, with a set of 'proper' speaking/ writing rules. It is against this background that accents become problematic (even if it seems they are just funny), as they betray the speaker as an "other", an "alien" in the corpus of the nation.
Photo credits: aloshbennett