Simanaitis Says

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YESTERDAY, MARNIE CHESTERTON of BBC CrowdScience opened a discussion of “Why Can’t I Change my Accent?” Today in Part 2, she tells us about pitch, in more ways than one. 

Pitch, as in Emphasis. Marnie spoke with Akiko Furukawa, Reader in Japanese and Applied Linguistics at SOAS University of London to learn about the importance of pitch. 

Furukawa offered her an example familiar to me with my limited Nihonji: Anata no hana wa kirei.” 

The hanamichi of a Kabuki stage. Image by Okumura Masanobu.

“HAna,” with emphasis on the first syllable is “flower,” as in “hanamichi,” the extending portion of a Kabuki stage, the “flower path.” On the other hand, “haNA” is nose.

Depending on emphasis, the phrase above compliments either your flower or your nose. (I dare not add “Take your pick.” This only complicates communication.)

Communicating. The point of language is communication, and thus accent is important only in its effect on this interaction. Monica tells Marnie that she is hurt when people ask “where are you from?”, just as I was vaguely puzzled by that teacher’s sarcasm. 

Also, Marnie discusses business communication with Shalu Yadav, a BBC colleague in Delhi, India. This city and its environs are renowned for call centers supporting U.S. operations, everything from tech support to unsolicited marketing. Shalu tells Marnie that prospective call center employees undergo two months training to attempt “American accents,” partly to enhance communication skills, partly to counter being judged on accent alone.

Pitch, as in “Hi. My Name is Bruce. How ’Ya Doing?” Shalu used to work at a call center, with the assumed name “Sarah.” She recently spoke with eight call center workers using similar Americanized monikers, each sharing experiences of customer reactions. Shalu reports less outright racism compared to the 15-20 percent back in her call center days. The employees she questioned, including one guy working as “Ethan,” report perhaps five to six racists per 100 calls.

Marnie Suggests. Generally, CrowdScience’s Marnie Chesterton suggests, don’t be mean to people on the telephone. We’ve all acquired fundamentals of our accent by age two. 

To modify accent, listen to video clips of people whose accent you admire. Practice repeating their phrasing and pronunciation. 

Marnie Chesterton has been with BBC CrowdScience since its first episode in 2016. 

An important point of communication, Marnie notes, is competence, not just cadence. And, I note, she does have a kirei voice; a nice nose too. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022


  1. -Nate
    October 29, 2022

    Well put however, much of the India sourced ‘Customer Service’ is no service at all .

    I don’t mind hearing foreign accents, after all the U.S.A. was made primarily of immigrants but allowing people who don’t understand American English and worse, have little interest in actually helping you, isn’t going to placate anyone .

    Shame on those who use this as an excuse to show their inherent racism .


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