As though the national hysteria over the right of some non-Christians to congregate and worship in mosques in this freedom-loving country weren’t depressing enough, comes news that academic research shows how native speakers of English tend to distrust people who speak the language with a foreign accent.
Through the years, depending on which country America happens to be at war or at odds with, Hollywood movies have always characterized the enemy by giving them weird German/Russian/Chinese/Japanese accents. So how would we judge people like Henry Kissinger, Carmen Miranda, Desi Arnaz or Roman Polanski today? Ooops. Forget about Arnaz, a Latino who can continue to love Lucy, but probably not in Arizona. Or Polanski, who is now more American than he is Polish or French, but who continues to be demonized because he was attracted to a pubescent teenager, something our culture obviously does not encourage, even though we worship in the House of Cyrus and the Temple of Bieber.
As for myself, these days, whenever people ask me where I’m from, I no longer go to the trouble of telling them that I was born of Chinese parents in the Philippines, but that I have now lived nearly two-thirds of my life in these United States. I just smile inscrutably and tell them I’m from Kansas. However, even though I learned to speak English from the American Jesuits and the Irish Christian Brothers in the schools I attended in Manila, because I still speak the language with a little accent, thanks to “Why Don’t We Believe Non-Native Speakers? The Influence of Accent on Credibility,” the article published recently in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, I now know why no one in America ever believes anything I say.