closedistances (closedistances) wrote in cmanthropology,

Online Accents?

For a class project, I am examining the use of virtual communities by Indian diasporas. In the course of my research, I found some discussion of how having an accent can be a hindrance to sociocultural integration:
As I arrived there [at the immigration counter] I was greeted by a wonderful voice. I tried to greet back but felt as though someone had stitched my mouth shut. Words were battling to come out. I had spent months preparing for this day. But nothing could prepare me for this moment. I was answering every question by moving my head. I am sure by the time we finished he would have thought that I could not speak…
I feared being rejected. The very idea of not being able to express myself or being understood due to my accent used to make me uneasy. I feared my ability to adjust in new environment and culture… [Srinivasan 2004: 2]

Delta still employs more than 5,000 of its own reservations agents at eight U.S. reservations centers, including one in Tampa's West Shore district, and centers in Latin America and London. No Delta agents lost their jobs because of the outsourcing, Estes said.

But the service has spurred complaints from customers who say the contracted agents in India lack the training, language skills or knowledge of U.S. geography to handle certain types of transactions. The frequent flier Web site has hosted online discussions with titles such as "India Call Center Incompetence." [Huettel 2004: 1A]

...according to a survey of 1,084 Indian call-center workers from 19 companies, conducted on the sly at local parks, cafes and private homes, the employees are starting to feel more like characters in the Stepford Wives than The Ten Commandments:

+ Forced to work odd hours to accommodate the American business day, Indian workers find they are estranged from their families and friends, eating poorly, and stressed out by the unending calls from sometimes abusive customers.

+ The typical Indian worker is required to Americanize his name, change his accent and study American sports and popular culture. What may seem novel at first often adds to his sense of alienation from Indian society. [Barancik 2003: 1E]

My first thought upon reading this was that perhaps recently-emigrated Indians might like virtual communities as a venue for socialization because no one would be able to detect their accent online. However, I quickly realized that is not correct. It is true that other people wouldn't actually hear differences in pronunciation, but there are still canonical ways of writing (spelling, grammar, cultural references, etc.) that would be the virtual equivalent of an accent if not follow. For instance, take a look at this blogger's speculation about the identity of Riverbend, an Iraqi blogger:
before we go any further I need to deal with what has caused the most speculation about her: her English. It's not just good. It's flawless. I'm pretty good at "literary voices" and can usually detect an accent in writing, but she has none (from this American's point of view). She says she was raised "abroad" and she's "bilingual" which suggests she speaks her native tongue and English. So "abroad" is not France or Russia. It's somewhere where the native language is English: Britain, Australia, South Africa, Canada, America, the Carribeans (Am I leaving anything out?). But once again, she has no "accent" in her non-American idioms or words. For "abroad", I'd say we're looking at America or Canada.

Most Canadians live within 150 miles of the US border. But I think the claim that she's "bilingual" almost dispenses with the possibility that she was raised and educated there. I "was raised" across the lake from Canada. I have several close Canadian friends, and, personally, I've never met a Canadian (teen-aged and up) (even those in Western Canada) who would admit to not being able to speak French (even though, excepting French Canadians, most seem to speak it only marginally better than most anglo-Texans speak Spanish.)

Besides, there's no "Canada" in her posts. She bears no self-conscious pose of superiority over American culture in which Canadians stew. Her tone when referencing aspects of the American movies and government is like an American's. She lacks the subtle quaint false presumptions most Canadians have about Americans from experiencing the US almost entirely from US television yet (because of proximity) believing they know it. There is no self-perceived distance from America. She usually reads like an American exiled to Iraq. She explains her knowledge of American culture in that Iraqis closely follow American culture, but this doesn't answer it for me. Put her posts side-by-side with the Jarrar boys and with The Iraq the Model brothers (whose English is also very good), and I think any American ought to see the difference.

There is also Mahir Cagiri, who became an Internet celebrity based on his online accent:
I like music , I have many many music enstrumans my home I can play

I like sport , swiming , basketball , tenis , volayball , walk .........

I like sex

I like travel I go 3-4 country every year

I went , Germany , Nederland , Belgium , Austria , Denmark , Sweden , Hungary

Moldovia , Ukraina , Bulgaria , Romania , Macedonia , Azerbaijan , Georrgia , Iran .....

My profession jurnalist , music and sport teacher , I make psycolojy doctora

I like to take foto-camera (amimals , towns , nice nude models and peoples).....

My tall 1.84 cm (6.2 feet) My weight 78 kg.

My eyes green .. I live alone !!!!!!!!!

I have home - car .........

I like to be friendship from different country ..

I live in TURKEY -town IZMIR ...( 4 million peoples - near the sea - old history)...

Who is want to come TURKEY I can invitate .....

She can stay my home ........

I speake turkish , english , rusian , I want to learn other language !

It seems clear that accents do exist online; however, do they exist to the same degree that regular accents do? In other words, are online accents easier to conceal than accents in face-to-face communication? Might an immigrant concerned about his or her accent prefer Internet communication for this reason?

Have any articles been written on this? I'd be surprised if there wasn't.


Barancik, Scott
2003 INDIA'S CALL-CENTER WORK FORCE: DIFFERENT WORLD / SAME OLD STRESS. St. Petersburg Times (Florida), September 3. South Pinellas Edition. SECTION: BUSINESS; Pg. 1E.

2004 CryMeARiverbend II: Who Is Riverbend? Electronic document:, accessed November 21, 2004.

Huettel, Steve
2004 Delta thinks of charging more for American voice on phone. St. Petersburg Times (Florida), July 28. South Pinellas Edition. SECTION: NATIONAL; Pg. 1A.

Srinivasan, Krishnan
2004 The longest 30 minutes of my life… Reflections of India: A Newsletter of Students of India Association of USF. November 6, pp. 2.
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