“Accent is how the other speaks. It is the first diagnostic for identification of geographic or social outsiders”
- Rosina Lippi-Green
There is a good deal of consensus on the “proper” way of speaking English, which puts a label on everyone who cannot mute their accents: the other. Accents play a big role in how we construct “in” and “out” groups, rank one’s social status, and rate credibility and competence. These attitudes, conscious and unconscious, undermine inclusiveness in a diverse community.
Sounds Like Home documentary aims to spark a conversation about accent bias. At its heart, the project will explore how those with non-native accents cope with bias and discrimination in their everyday lives, and will offer perspectives for how we, as a society, might shift the onus of effective communication from the speaker to being a shared responsibility of both speaker and listener. Through it, we will use stories and science to challenge assumptions about diversity in spoken language and ask what would happen if we were to stop consenting to the idea there is only a single, correct way to speak.
Sounds Like Home documentary is fiscally sponsored by Northwest Film Forum and is currently in pre-production.​​​​​​​

I immigrated to the United States from Turkey to build a new life. Ten years on, I’ve truly blended in, but my accent still sets me apart. At the beginning of a conversation, there are always telltale signs: a furrowing of the brow, slight turn of the head, and eyes refocusing on an invisible map hovering slightly above me. It’s a clear moment where the person I’m talking to, whether ordering a coffee or meeting a new business contact, stops paying attention to what I’m saying and gets stuck on placing my accent. More often than not, they jump to, “Where are you from?” right on the heels of them hearing me speak for the first time.

When I say “Seattle”, the general response is, “No, you're not." This is followed by weird laughter, as if I just said something hilarious, "Where are you really from?” Regardless of their intention, what they’re really telling me is that I sound different; like an outsider. This crucial piece of information determines which box they put me in, and it’s not like my accent ever lands me in the prized one. At this point, I can either step into that box and take the hit to my self-worth, or spend the time and mental energy to convince a random stranger that this is, indeed, my home.

And, in professional settings, the price for a fair shake is pretty high. Since coming to the United States, I’ve armed myself with a master's degree and an ever increasing number of certifications to compensate for the fact that my accent has a direct impact on how others perceive my credibility and competence. But, no matter how many certificates I get, none are actually a ticket out of the box.

For each interaction I navigate, personal or professional, there is a never ending line of people ready to impose boxes of their own. Accent is, after all, a springboard for stereotyping; it can be a stigma, even within native speakers of the same language. What if we pull back and shift our focus from the speaker to observe both sides of the conversation? What is the listener’s responsibility in effective communication? How do we all handle diversity in language? And, what would happen if we were to stop consenting to the idea there is a single, correct way to speak?

So, I’m choosing to speak up, loudly, in all of my accented glory. And, this documentary is me raising my voice.

Filiz Efe McKinney, Director, Producer
Seattle, WA
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.“
 - Eleanor Roosevelt
I often feel I’m being scrutinized, like people are trying to figure me out—as though there’s something unplaceable about my presence. I had previously assumed it was the content of my speech—not me or my voice—that was baffling people. New students looked at me with furrowed brows and tilted heads. Then, I changed my introduction to tell my personal story in a way that quickly explained my gender and age: I’m a transgender man in my mid-30s. The head tilts disappeared. My discomfort, however, did not.

On the one hand, people were no longer distracted “figuring me out,” and we could move on. On the other, why was I a distraction? Why should I have to explain my identity to avoid confusion or discomfort for other people? The more I thought about it, the more I felt that no one should have to explain their identity or origin, their inflection or accent in order to get the full attention and respect of others.

Earlier in my transition, I was especially conscious of my changing voice and the different affects and inflections men and women use when they speak. While we have an ongoing cultural awareness and discussion around bias based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and ability, accent bias is not usually part of this discussion, but it connects deeply to all of these. 

I am on a mission to become well-informed about, and confront the linguistic biases I carry around and that allow me to think of people as “others.” This film is a starting point for me to do that, and to share what I find with you. The struggle to identify and remove these learned biases is real, and never-ending. I hope you'll join me in this journey.

Jonah Kozlowski, Producer
Seattle, WA

March - June 2019, Seattle, WA • Northwest Film Forum
We’re looking to film an array of perspectives and experiences about accent bias and are actively seeking interview subjects to participate in our upcoming documentary:

Can you describe a situation where you’ve been treated differently because of your accent? 
Do you have any strategies you use when experiencing these types of situations? 
Why do you think people should care about this topic?
We would love to hear about your experience.

Are you currently drafting policy dealing with accent bias or discrimination? Does your academic research or professional field focus on implicit bias? 
We would love to get your insight.

Are you a native English speaker who has done anti-bias training or who actively focuses on eliminating othering behaviors from your life? 
We would love to understand your journey.

Whatever your background or experience, please reach out via email or fill out the form below if you’re open to joining us for a preliminary interview. 

Thank you!

This project was supported, in part, by an award from 4Culture.
Back to Top