Probing subconscious perceptions with Alex Baratta
Lecturer in Educational Linguistics, School of Environment, Education and Development
“How would you feel being told you’ve got to change your accent to sound like mine?”
We may live in enlightened times but linguistic prejudice still exists. Alex Baratta takes an unsentimental look at how accents are perceived – predominantly in the context of education – and how those perceptions shape the world we live in.
Alex has lived in the States, South Korea and now the UK, where he is well-versed in the nuances of the accents of the North West of England, where there are those who might be inclined to modify their accents. But why? Alex knows too well from his work that teachers have altered their accents - even minutely - to appeal to employers, from job interviews to teacher training.
Within any society, however, accent really isn’t just about sounds; it’s a proxy for larger categories like race, ethnicity and class.Alex Baratta / Lecturer in Educational Linguistics
Alex believes being from the US gives him the advantage of looking at accent perception more objectively, and his work is always led by the head and not the heart.
“I think there are still strongly-felt class perceptions in Britain,” he explained. “Whereas in the States, class is not really defined. It's more about race. Within any society, however, accent really isn’t just about sounds; it’s a proxy for larger categories like race, ethnicity and class.”
Just like politics or the media, Alex believes education should be representative, which means including accents and not subverting them.
Alex is continuing to add to his study of teachers, hoping to get a coordinated thousand primary and secondary teachers from across the country into his analysis, with the goal of addressing policymaking (notably, the Teachers’ Standards) as far as linguistic standards are concerned, potentially preventing cases of teachers being asked to change the way they talk if they want to get a job.