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Xenophobia Has No Accent–Or Does It?

Feather Larson & Synhors, the company that put together anti-immigrant campaign phone calls in Indiana, promises voices with “neutral” accents. Representative Mark Souder has complained that voices on calls for his campaign in Indiana were so thickly accented, he couldn’t understand them.

This from the Hill:

According to the United Press International, Souder complained about campaign calls made on his behalf after listening to a message left on his sister’s answering machine in which the only word he understood was “Hayhurst,” the last name of his Democratic challenger, Tom Hayhurst.

But why consider this a screw-up? What if had been a conscious rhetorical choice? You could really drive an anti-immigrant message home by annoying listeners with non-native English voices — just as you could pump up your anti-gay marriage ads with stereotypically “gay” voices. (Note: I’m not advocating this; I’m just pointing out that “neutral” media accents may make a message more intelligible but still cripple it by stripping out its emotional provocation. Too bad this principle gets used too often in negative ways: yeehaw voices for truck commercials, etc.)

However, the Hill account only says that Souder complained of “foreign” accents. What does that mean? That the speakers come from Mumbai or the North End of Boston? Could be either. Or both.

Given the all-encompassing xenophobic tenor of anti-immigration attitudes, I say both.