The Root of Language

“The Root of Language”

“When people put down the way others speak, they sometimes forget that everybody speaks with an accent, so before you jump to conclusions, consider the many ways of talking Americans have and remember that what sounds funny or odd to one person is music to the ears of another.” The previous quote from “American Tongues” illustrates the point that accents and dialects can be taken in different ways, and different ways of speaking can be either accepted or rejected because of what you’re used to. I’m from Philadelphia, so there are plenty of factors that come into play when taking apart my accent and figuring out which parts come from where or what. Diversity in metropolitan cities such as Philadelphia differs greatly, and therefore affects the subconscious code switching ability that many people possess through their accent or dialect. One problem that many people face is the stereotypes and prejudices that unfortunately come with a lot of accents. Like other Americans, my speech and accent is different from a lot of people, and is affected by the subconscious code switching ability that everyone has, and “American Tongues,” a documentary directed by Louis Alvarez and Andy Kolker about the English language from 1988 touches on how individuals in systems are affected by prejudices and stereotypes.

Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, located on the East Coast can be defined as a very separated or segregated city, but in reality the mix of all races and dialects comes into play when you include them all together. Neighborhoods in Philadelphia can be characterized by the ethnic or racial makeup, but there are so many sections that come into one through education, work, or recreational activities that it should be considered diverse. Each racial or ethnic group has their own accent, and they can and usually develop it to be their own through what is most comfortable to them.  I think knowing another language might be able to alter your natural accent in the long run. I’ve been speaking fluent Spanish for almost nine years now, and I’ve been to several South American countries to immerse myself in their culture. By now, I believe that pronouncing Spanish words for so many years must have had some effect on my accent in general, because the ways that you pronounce things in Spanish are hard if you say them with an American accent. My brain just subconsciously changed the way I say certain sounds to ease the transition from Spanish to English. In general, I believe that my accent has changed through the grand diversity that I have experienced through my life, and also affects the natural code switching ability that everyone possesses subconsciously.

Growing up in a city is a lot different than growing up in the country, both language-wise and diversity-wise. Cities tend to have a greater diversity of the general population, while the country has usually one main group of people integrated with a few different types of people from other places.Every race and/or ethnic group has their own accent or dialect, and being in the city where everyone is so close together affects the way everyone talks.The past 10 years that I’ve gone to school, I’ve subconsciously code switched between different cliques, my own home, and the adults that are in my life.With my friends, it’s easier to speak in a more slurred tone, use slang, and/or abbreviations.With my parents, there’s still some slang occasionally, but it’s not really a big deal. Teachers, mentors, advisors, and other adults are talked to without the slang, my speech slows so I can pronounce the words better, and I tend to use a bigger vocabulary. Through the help of a metropolitan city like Philadelphia, the language of the area can be changed through code switching.

Unfortunately, a few very big problems facing Americans today are the generalizations and stereotypes that come along with one’s accent or dialect. During the process of growing up, you tend to speak like the people around you because it’s what you’re used to. When you’re an adult and are seeking a job, sometimes your accent can get in the way. For example, through the media itself, in a lot of movies or television shows, east coast accents such as the ones from New York City are used to portray businessmen, rude taxi drivers, or street criminals. In another sense, country style accents are used to portray old-fashioned people, motherly like figures, or extremely religious people. Through the media, stereotypes are built up until they become the norm, and people begin to subconsciously associate the stereotypes as true. Even though the stereotypes are not true, they begin to get associated as true, which encourages people to believe them.In general, stereotypes about accents or dialects can lead to discrimination.


"American Tongues Transcript." American Tongues Transcript. N.p., 1987. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>.

"Penn: The Philly Accent Is Steadily Changing." Penn: The Philly Accent Is Steadily Changing. UPenn, n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>.

Other information:

  • A "language autobiography," presenting scenes from your own life and reflection on your language.

Questions that were touched on:

  • What is the role of the individual in systems?
  • Where is language an area of conflict? at home? In school? In other aspects of public life?
  • How do you consciously change your ways of speaking? Do you code-switch? Why?
  • Do you have a public persona that is different from your intimate persona?

Sources that were touched on:

  • Ideas presented in American Tongues