Does my voice whiten me or not? A reflection on the instability of race and accent (by Vijay Ramjattan)

Guest blogger Vijay Ramjattan is a PhD candidate at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, a division of the University of Toronto. His research interests lie at the intersection of language and race as these relate to the experiences of marginalized people in the workplace. These interests are exemplified by his MA research examining the professional microaggressions experienced by racialized English language teachers and his doctoral work on the racialization of accents found in the communicative labour of international teaching assistants.

My parents make fun of how I pronounce the word “water.” When I pronounce this word, the /t/ sounds more like a /d/ (what linguists refer to as flapping) and the second syllable is unstressed. In contrast, my parents, who were born in Trinidad, pronounce “water” as “wata.” For them, the way that I pronounce this word is a result of being born and raised in Canada and thus having a so-called Canadian accent. However, according to my parents, a Canadian accent is a metonym for something else. In fact, when they comment on how I sound Canadian, my parents are actually remarking on how I sound white. That is, they usually connect my speech to that of people in the Canadian media, who are mostly white and identify as Canadian.

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