Before presenting my research at a conference the chair of the session (and head of the organisation running the conference) introduced me but instead of introducing my position or the title of my paper thought it more relevant to tell everyone that “Dave is from Scotland, so he is going to try to speak very slowly and clearly for us all so that we can understand him, isn’t he?”. I responded that I could deliver my paper in Scots if they would like to which they replied “yes you like to think you have your own language don’t you?”
I think a few of the audience were also quite shocked at this but the majority thought it was quite funny. I always find it surprising that this would happen at an applied linguistics/sociolinguistics conference! Stuff like this happens to me frequently at conferences and it consistently strikes me as odd that linguists (mostly old, white and English…) assume that I’m not aware of my own speech or think I’m incapable of speaking in a way in which people can understand me.
One time, a British woman asked me upon meeting me ‘Where is home?’ I assumed she meant my address, so I told her which area I lived in, to which she replied (in a manner close to baby talk) ‘No, no, home. Where does mummy live?’ I was shocked as, although she was several decades older than me (and may have seen me as a young person), I have not lived with ‘mummy’ for almost a decade. I told her that I’m from Hungary to which she replied ‘Your English is so much better than my Romanian cleaning lady’s!’ I then told her that I’m doing a PhD in English linguistics and avoided talking to her for the rest of the night.
I’m Irish and have experienced a lot of negative feedback and discrimination in the UK due to my accent, ranging from someone refusing to be seated next to me on a plane to students telling me they can’t take me seriously because I ‘sound like Father Ted’!
I’m American by birth, English by accent and face an awful lot of criticism for it. I was once detained in a horrible little room at JFK airport because my accent and passport didn’t ‘match’ and I was questioned about false documentation before being brought to tears because I thought I was going to be arrested. That was the most unusual experience. Other than that, I often get odd looks when I speak about my history and my parents very much do not like that we sound unrelated.
I was on a panel about technology and entertainment at South by Southwest – after, I was approached by someone who said ‘I’ve never heard anyone who sounds like you talk so well about those things’. I had versions of that happen regularly during phone interviews.
When I was 16 years old, I was an exchange student to Germany for a year. I’m American. One of the classes I was taking was English literature. It was early on in the school year, I didn’t know many people. The class was reading the Grapes of Wrath. The teacher was a non-native English speaker but spoke British English. One day we took turns reading from the book aloud. After I read, the teacher said, ‘Too bad you butchered it with your American accent’. It was Steinbeck! But at the time I didn’t stick up for myself.
I had to raise an issue with higher management in a big multinational because they said we couldn’t speak any language other than English while on shift (illegal) and that we would lose bonuses or get fired if we did (highly illegal). They even dared to put it in writing and send an email stating ALL of it. Of course, they had to back down. But out of a team of 50-60 people (90% foreigners), nobody else was brave enough to complain. Not even foreign managers.