The Business of Accent Reduction and Interest Divergence

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Vijay RAMJATTAN, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada
Taking the form of in-person or online training, U.S. and Canadian accent reduction programs cater to English-speaking immigrant professionals whose “incomprehensible” accents hinder their opportunities for prestigious communication-based work. From a critical race theoretical perspective, this business of accent reduction seemingly becomes a site of interest convergence: while mostly racialized immigrants receive necessary training to professionally succeed in the U.S. and Canada, these majority-White nations simultaneously receive linguistically-qualified workers to bolster their economies. However, drawing on scholarly literature and promotional material from popular accent reduction programs in North America, this essay argues that the business of accent reduction actually encourages interest divergence, the notion that it is in the White majority’s interest to continue to marginalize racialized groups (e.g., Gillborn, 2013).

Indeed, this interest divergence is first seen in how accent reduction programs treat foreign accents as pathological traits. That is, by framing the employment troubles of racialized immigrants as solely caused by their accents, these programs ignore the structural racism that truly disadvantage these immigrants. Moreover, the particular pathologizing of racialized accents serves as a cue for the need to subscribe to White linguistic norms, thereby alleviating White native English speakers’ burden to understand varying types of foreign-accented speech. Interest divergence is lastly seen in the targeted clientele for accent reduction, who are highly-skilled racialized professionals in such White-dominated fields as business and technology and not racialized immigrants in low-paying service and care work. These examples all highlight that while accent reduction programs promote their services as a means for inclusion and equality in the North American workplace, they covertly communicate the opposite message.


Gillborn, D. (2013). Interest-divergence and the colour of cutbacks: Race, recession and the undeclared war on black children. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 34(4), 477-491.