The Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee has decided it’s OK after all for scientists to speak with a Southern drawl, canceling its plans for a six-week course in “Southern Accent Reduction” after staff members deemed it offensive.
The negative response was swift after the laboratory’s human resources department distributed a registration notice last week for the course meant to wipe out employees’ twangy accents, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.
“Feel confident in a meeting when you need to speak with a more neutral American accent, and be remembered for what you say and not how you say it,” the class description read, the paper reported.
“In this course you will learn to recognize the pronunciation and grammar differences that make your speech sound Southern, and learn what to do so you can neutralize it through a technique called code-switching,” it said.
The six-week course was to be taught by Lisa Scott, “a nationally certified speech pathologist and accent reduction trainer.”
Laboratory spokesman David Keim said managers quickly canceled the class after employees complained.
“Given the way that it came across, they decided to cancel it,” Mr. Keim told the Sentinel. “It probably wasn’t presented in the right way and made it look like [the laboratory] had some problem with having a Southern accent, which of course we don’t. That was not the intent at all.”
“We’ve offered accent reduction training to foreign nationals for years,” he added. “But this one obviously surprised some folks.”
The laboratory, managed for the U.S. Department of Energy by UT-Battelle, has one of the region’s most diverse work populations, Mr. Keim told the paper.