Language prejudice and the documentation of minoritized varieties of English

The questions which could not be addressed during the webinar session were addressed by the panelists and their answers are available to view below.

Q: This is being recorded. Will there be a written transcript of this lecture? Thanks.

Answer from the OED team: Yes, subtitles have been added to the recording.

Q: To what extent is this dialect mocking used for reverse racism, kinda like wearing it like a badge of honor? For example, you have the people in the southern states who are being mocked for their accent and dialect. They, in turn, have turned this as an element of pride and in-group cohesion. To what extent something like this has been used by groups such as those mentioned in this discussion… to be taken from being an instrument of ridicule to being converted to a tool of identity cohesion etc…

Answer from Kelly Elizabeth Wright: I think what you are referring to is perhaps a concept that has been referred to as Local Prestige (Labov; Trudgill). Reverse racism isn’t a thing because racism is defined by the social consequences created when one race in power oppresses one which is not in power. That is only possible unidirectionally. People who are oppressed – socially, economically, etc. cannot effect their oppressors in the same way.

Q: For Dr Hall – not a question, particularly, but an observation as a white Bermudian. Often I will speak with a Bermudian accent to signify as belonging to Bermuda although it isn’t my normal accent. I use this mainly when speaking to Black Bermudians to signify that I’m not an expat and to highlight commonality as a Bermudian. If others would think it’s a parody, it isn’t.

Answer from Dr Rosemary Hall: I think something quite complex is happening when white Bermudians ‘switch’ into a dialect they don’t normally use – could do a whole webinar on it, but I wonder whether there is a political statement being made when you say you are performing the dialect ‘to show commonality as a Bermudian’. I don’t put on a Yorkshire accent, for example, to show commonality as a British English person. Black and white Bermudians do have different accents because of so many years of enslavement and segregation. There’s some overlap, but not completely. Sometimes there is a type of colour-blindness going on when white Bermudians ‘do’ black Bermudian English. Something to think about and always happy to talk more.

Q: At NHS Digital we have a focus on plain language and easy read versions of our content ( and – health and data. But should we more seriously considering minoritized versions of English words in healthcare, considering the diverse origins of people in the UK?

Answer from Kingsley Ugwuanyi: By all means, yes. I believe that will make the NHS more (linguistically) inclusive.

Q: Yesterday, I attended a seminar where the speaker was talking about how migrants’ accents are used as a distraction for institutional prejudice, particularly in places such as Canada, where migrants who are highly educated are not employed because they don’t have an acceptable accent. To what extent do you think accent is an issue for speakers of World Englishes?

Answer from Kingsley Ugwuanyi: I also attended this webinar. And as the speaker demonstrated with wide-ranging evidence, speakers of World Englishes are discriminated against because of their accents, especially for the purpose of securing jobs and other social benefits.

Q: I totally agree about raising the profile of everyone’s English but how do we embed this attitude in practice when England’s teacher professional standards require that teachers enforce the use of ‘Standard English’ in the classroom?

Answer from Kingsley Ugwuanyi: I think all of us (who are ‘informed’) should continue to talk and write about it, including participating in campaigns that promote increased linguistic inclusion of all English varieties.

Q: I am curious to know if any of the panelists have experienced a backlash against English in their respective countries. If so, how does it manifest itself and what challenges are associated with such occurrences. Thank you.

Answer from Kingsley Ugwuanyi: In the case of Nigeria, there has not been any real backlash against English. However, what seems to be emerging, according to the findings in my doctoral research, is that many Nigerians tend to prefer Nigerian English to the so-called ‘native’ varieties.

Q: I’m interested to know some of Kingsley’s findings from his PhD on Nigerians’ attitude to their own language(s), if he could share the title that would be great.

Answer from Kingsley Ugwuanyi: English language ownership perceptions of speakers of Nigerian English

Q: I’m so looking forward to seeing you speak again on Monday, Kelly. Perhaps you can share here details of the (not Oxford!) event: Institutionalised Anti-Black Linguistic Discrimination? I’m sure there are others who’d be keen to follow this up with that…

Kelly’s lecture, ‘Institutionalized Anti-Black Linguistic Discrimination’, can be found here.

Q: Apologies if this request has already been made: after the webinar can the panelists please link to their (open access) work related to today’s discussion? Thank you.

Answer from Dr Rosemary Hall: The mouths of others: The linguistic performance of race in Bermuda