U.S. Oak Ridge lab to southern employees: 'Y'all talk just fine'

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 29, 2014 5:12 PM

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE (Reuters) - Hey y'all, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee said on Tuesday it will not try to get Southerners on its staff to disguise their distinctive drawls.

Some Southern-born employees at Oak Ridge objected to a "Southern Accent Reduction" training program, and the national science and energy laboratory, which employs more than 4,000 people in eastern Tennessee, backed down.

"Given the number of staff here who have Southern accents, this was clearly not received well," said David Keim, communications director for the lab.

The class, which was to meet for 90 minutes a week for six weeks in August and September, was advertised as being designed to "give employees a more-neutral American accent, and be remembered for what you say and not how you say it."

The announcement for the class was sent out early last week, but withdrawn within hours, Keim told Reuters.

The class would also have addressed the differences between Southern grammar and dialects and "standard American English."

Keim said accent reduction classes have been common for years at the facility, but this was the first time the Southern dialect was being singled out.

"We have staff from scores of countries and all over the United States. So it is relatively common to see courses helping people who want help with their accent. If you have a researcher with a very thick accent, it benefits them to spend a few hours learning how to mitigate that," he said.

The lab has never had a problem with a Southern accent, but offered the training in response to requests from some employees, said Keim.

"People are relatively good-humored about it. No insult was intended, so we're using this as an opportunity for a good ribbing," said Keim, who is looking forward to getting back to promoting regular lab business such as speeches by Nobel laureates and the quest for better superconducting materials.

(Editing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by David Gregorio)