Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s use of accents have received a good deal of attention in the media. Hillary Clinton was accused of changing her accent in order to sway voters — she adopted distinctly different accents tailored to whichever audience she was addressing — while Donald Trump was blasted for mocking the Indian accent. Both “put on” different accents, but their reasons for doing so — and the results — are vastly different. Why?
“Code-switching”, a linguistic term which can include changing your accent depending on the situation and setting, is something people often do. (For example, a lawyer will speak differently to a pal at a baseball game than he will to a judge.) When she uses a southern accent, Hillary Clinton’s code-switching is done to connect with people. Is it contrived? Of course. It’s her way of reaching out, of trying to sell potential supporters on the possibility, however remote, that she is one of them.
What Donald Trump did, however, was another story entirely. When Trump put on an Indian accent in a recent speech, it was also to reach out to people. It could be argued that he, too, was using code-switching to connect with his base — by putting on a stereotypical Indian accent, he was mocking and denigrating a race of people and, as a result, connecting with a supporter base that has proven eager to embrace ethnic and religious stereotypes.
Here’s the difference: while Clinton was adopting code-switching to forge a personal connection with potential supporters, Trump’s use of the Indian accent was designed to simply traffic in stereotypes. It connected him to his supporters, true, but in a way that was designed to mock and humiliate “the other.” The first purpose is to unite people, while the other is to be divisive. Needless to say, it’s also patently offensive.
At Change Your Accent, when we teach someone how to modify their accent, it is a form of code-switching. Individuals learn to use a different accent which can be turned on and off to meet their needs. The reason most of our clients modify their accents is so that people can easily understand what they are saying. The motive in this case is also to reach out and connect — for all the right reasons.
Take a look at the videos of Clinton and Trump and let us know what you think. They are different. Right?