Adopted by LSA members in an online ballot, August 18, 2010

Whereas the Arizona Department of Education and State Board of Education recently (in May 2010) directed Arizona schools to remove teachers who speak English with "heavy accents" from English Language Learner (ELL) classrooms, the Linguistic Society of America, as a society of scholars engaged in the scientific study of language, hereby resolves to make it known that:

  1. The policy is based on uninformed linguistic and educational assumptions about accents and the role of accents in language teaching and learning. Contrary to those assumptions, linguistic research finds:

    1a. There is no such thing as 'unaccented speech,' because everyone's speech is characterized by the pronunciation patterns of their dialects and styles within those dialects. Linguistic research suggests that the perception of 'accent' can indicate more about the attitudes a listener holds towards the groups of people said to have accents than about the actual linguistic difference between the speaker and the listener. What is essential for instruction is speaker intelligibility. Intelligibility is not the same as accent.

    1b. Linguistic research also suggests that second language teachers who share cultural knowledge and language background with their pupils may in fact be especially well equipped for second language teaching. That is, knowledge of Spanish as a first language can be an advantage in teaching English to Spanish-speaking students.

    1c. Furthermore, exposure to different ways of speaking has been shown to help, and not hurt, students acquire language. It is therefore helpful for all students (English language learners as well as native speakers) to be exposed to foreign-accented speech as a part of their education.

  2. The policy has the potential to unfairly target Latina/o teachers, and their students, by removing the very teachers who may be best qualified to teach them. The policy therefore risks an overall decrease in the acquisition of English by ELL students.

  3. The policy communicates to students that foreign accented speech is 'bad' or 'harmful'. This is counterproductive to learning, and affirms pre-existing patterns of linguistic bias and harmful 'linguistic profiling'.

The statement was drafted based on a more detailed statement put forth by the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona. The statement can be found here. (PDF)

return to Resolutions, Statements, and Guides