When Abba pronounces every s in the English writing system as an actual [s], it is at worst a lovable foible. (“Walking through an empty house, tearss in my eyess/Here iss where the story endss. This iss goodbyyye.”) When Filipinos do it (even more consistently and stridently and with different prosody), it elicits rage.

When übermensch Michael Wex waxes Judaically about Yiddish in Born to Kvetch, it is a source of great amusement – and ill-stifled laughter as I listen on my iPod right out in public. When Debbie Millmannn! of Design Maaatters! name-drops herself 13 times an hour on her stultifying design podcast and uses the most atrocious! Jewish American accent since Faith Popcorn’s, I plotz. (Worse, her clumsy script readings sound like they’re recorded from the bottom of a well over an analogue phoneline.)

Now, do you object to that? But you don’t object to the conventional wisdom that Fran Drescher’s voice is unendurable, do you? (Marge’s voice is lovable, but Patty’s and Selma’s are like fingernails on concrete. You agree with that, but you’re listening to the same set of vocal cords from one actress.)

You can spot a gay accent at a distance of 15 feet with your back turned. (You can. And I don’t have one.) All you have to do to indicate that voice to your nearby friends is to whisper “Psss… psss… psss.”

Which accent do you hate more, white Sithifrican or white Zimbebbwean? (Is it a tie?) How much angrier does it make you to be subjected to half-arsed – and, like Millman, overscripted – technical support when it’s delivered in an Indian accent rather than your own? (Does your attitude change if you already speak in an Indian accent?)

If you think that an accent cannot be changed, you must not have watched a British actor at work. (Or The Simpsons.) Accents are intrinsic, but they aren’t immutable. It may be unsporting to resent somebody for being short or crippled, but just how unsporting is it to object to an accent? Is it one step above a pet peeve? Is it the kind of peeve that isn’t a pet, that isn’t a lovable foible?

As linguists, we’re supposed to be descriptivist. Right – and married couples are supposed to be monogamous. Let’s be real here.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2008.01.05 14:12. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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