Words Spoken and Heard
What’s so funny about accents?
There’s usually a little bit of guilt, a hairsbreadth of remorse that accompanies most people’s mockery of the things that others can’t control. Race, gender, physical capability. It seems to me that although jokes about these things exist, there also exists an interesting system in place (as far as the U.S. is concerned), a system of external shame, that spotlights the public unacceptability of these jokes.
But accents are different. Accents are hilarious!
How funny that displaced immigrant is as she tries to learn a completely different language in an entirely foreign country. How amusing that man is as he tries to precariously balance how much of his culture and tongue he can truly share with his kids, because he fears that anything short of their true assimilation will hurt their future. Their American future.
From what I can see, Haiti evaluates America, and Haitian citizens’ interaction with the U.S., with a tiered sense of accomplishment: to have family members who live in the U.S. is simple status, but it is nothing extraordinary. After all, countless Haitian residents have plenty of family in the states. To have actually immigrated to the U.S. is more impressive, often regardless of the context. To either begin a family in, or to help your family in Haiti immigrate to the states is looked at with even more favor. But to master English, to speak it fluently, to understand its ins and outs, to be able to, as a Haitian expression goes, “read the country’s Constitution,” seems to be the pinnacle of achievement. Of course I can’t speak for all Haitians, but learning to speak English fluently really did seem to be the zenith for my parents. So the whole ordeal had them feeling like:
When my brothers and I began to speak English, they were happy. When we lost our accents, they, and many of our other relatives, were ecstatic. Not only had we learned the language, but we sounded like “real Americans.” Now no one could tell us anything. And I was happy too. After all, when I was little, one my biggest fears was that I would grow up to have an accent like the Haitian adults around me. One of my greatest joys was sounding just like the commercial voiceovers I heard on TV.
To me, accents tell stories, they hold histories. They’re distinctive cultural bridges, they speak of resilience, the human capacity for learning. And they belong to real people. Accents, in both their development and their loss, are not things that people can help.
So why are they funny?
About the author
Hello! My name is Juliana Lamy, I’m a rising sophomore in Dunster House, and I plan on concentrating in History & Literature with a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. I’m originally... View full profile