OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — It’s OK to talk in a Southern accent and work at a national lab after all.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Department of Energy's largest laboratory, has canceled plans for a “Southern Accent Reduction” class because of objections from lab staff members, some of whom said they were offended by the training opportunity.
The lab's human resources department early last week distributed a registration notice for the six-week course to be taught by Lisa Scott, “a nationally certified speech pathologist and accent reduction trainer.”
Here was the pitch to get employees to sign up for the speech rehab program: “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 notice said the class would cover “some of the most common pronunciation and grammatical differences between Southern dialects and standard American English.”
It added: “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.”
Carolyn Ward of ORNL’s Learning and Development Services said the lab simply offered the class in response to an employee request. “We try to provide whatever requests we have,” she said.
ORNL spokesman David Keim said managers quickly canceled the class after staff members complained.
“Given the way that it came across, they decided to cancel it,” Keim said. “It probably wasn’t presented in the right way and made it look like ORNL had some problem with having a Southern accent, which of course we don’t. That was not the intent at all.”
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has one of the region’s most diverse work populations, with employees from all parts of the United States and many different countries of origin, as well as visiting scientists from around the globe.
“We’ve offered accent reduction training to foreign nationals for years,” Keim said. “But this one obviously surprised some folks.”