This month we invite you to consider Linguistic Prejudice. Consider the impact on diverse communities we connect with and our diverse colleagues in our workplaces. This post is a contribution from Lisa Lynch, Policy and Research Librarian, ALIA.
ALIA Multicultural welcomes contributions with a Multicultural focus. To contribute you can send us an email via the contact us form in our website
Linguistic prejudice: Do you hear what I hear?
By Lisa Lynch, Policy and Research Librarian, ALIA
Are you irritated by people who sound different to you, or do you welcome the difference? How someone sounds when they speak can tell you much about that person. However, it is personally devastating to an individual if you were to make negative assumptions based on their accent, dialect, speech characteristics or even different pronunciations (eg. someone saying “li-berry” instead of “li-bruh-ree”). Academics studying this behaviour have labelled it “linguistic prejudice” or “linguistic discrimination”. Simply put, it is a form of prejudice in which people hold implicit biases against others based on the way they speak. People may assume the speaker is for example, uneducated or unprofessional based on perceived negative assumptions relating to class, culture, race, gender and so on.
This issue is important for everyone in the Library and Information Services (LIS) sector, including hiring managers and those responsible for managing staff. A diverse LIS workforce that reflects its customer base would provide a better LIS service. Recent research by the University of Queensland discussed in the article UQ research reveals accent discrimination in hiring found people with accents signalling they are from a minority racial-ethic group and in particular, females with “non-standard” accents face strong discrimination during job interviews. Linguistic prejudice can perpetuate inequality through decisions not to hire, which would in turn affect the LIS service. Linguistic prejudice can also affect an individual’s ongoing work performance and mental health.
This issue also has wider societal impacts. When languages are lost, so are cultures and intellectual heritage. We need to safeguard linguistic diversity. 21 February is the United Nation’s International Mother Language Day. The years 2022 to 2032 are also the UN’s Decade of Indigenous Languages. Acknowledgment of these dates will help us all to understand and celebrate that people come from many diverse cultures and backgrounds which will be reflected in the way they speak.
Unfortunately, linguistic prejudice is real and is happening in Australia. People should not feel the need to change the way they sound for fear of risking discrimination. Giving this behaviour a label and acknowledging that it is not acceptable helps people who would otherwise feel that they do not belong in our society. Supporting linguistic diversity can only produce positive outcomes for the LIS workforce and for society at large.
Lisa Lynch AALIA (CP) is a qualified and experienced Information Professional with over 15 years’ work experience in the corporate and not-for-profit sectors. Her background includes knowledge management, information management, risk management, content management, and publishing. Lisa is currently the Policy and Research Librarian at the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA).
So many people feel they have to change their name partly, in pronunciation or to a completely different name, that is easier for native English speakers to understand and speak. I did this, too and I don’t like my “new” name but I changed it to make it easier for everyone else. I love the sound of my original name and it is what I identify with. So maybe after 29 years I will change back and insist on people making the effort to try and pronounce it as intended. Am I doing the right thing?
Thank you for contributing to the conversation. There are many that relate with your experience.
Michaela, I for one would love to learn to pronounce your original name correctly. I feel far more comfortable using someone’s preferred name (even if I don’t get it perfectly pronounced at first) rather than an Anglo name. Both my children have names that are often mispronounced but they embrace them and (fortunately) love them. They both have “coffee names” though that they use when they’re ordering to avoid the hassle of having to repeat multiple times 🙂