Writing with an accent is an idea that I’ve had since I first began studying Rhetoric and Composition during my master’s degree back in 2005. I first wondered about the idea since I was told much of my writing (not to mention my speaking) in English sounded “weird.” I believe now they were talking about my (non- or mis-) use of collocations-phrases and words that should be together. For example I will say (or write) things like ‘it’s raining dogs and cats’ instead of ‘cats and dogs.’
When I learned about style, I then wondered, how style differs from voice. Then, I realized that as native speakers, everyone had their own way of saying things depending on the variety of English, Spanish, or whatever language they spoke. In other words, I figured, everyone has an accent. It was only logical for me to assume everyone also writes with an accent.
This notion was further complicated when I learned about sociolinguistics and regional accents, or language and gender, class, ethnicity, etc. It’s often obvious when speaking, but in writing, where language is more monitored, would accents still be noticed? It turns out they are. With the rise of digital media and the blend between orality and writing, one can now see how people write as they speak (Crystal has called this way of writing “textspeak” for example). Other words to describe the way we communicate digitally are netspeak and text-talk, both of which allude to the idea of putting our speech into text. Eisenstein and his colleagues have already shown that Twitter users shorten their words differently depending on the variety of English they speak (links to several sources here). Another study that merges the variety of speech and writing is Barbara Johnstone’s study of Pittsburghese accent in t-shirts.
Part of my research agenda is the intersection between sociolinguistics, digital media, and writing. Thus, in my latest publication, I describe how transnational second-generation Mexican bilinguals use “ranchero” Mexican Spanish to communicate on Facebook and construct an identity. Historically, ranchero is an ambivalent identity for Mexican society in general. On the one hand, ranchero culture is a positive reminiscence of Mexico’s agrarian past, while on the other, rancheros, along with indigenous Mexicans, are at the bottom of the social hierarchy in Mexico (they are discriminated against socially and linguistically -they are made fun of and associated with negative educational and social traits). A discourse-centered, ethnographic analysis of digitally mediated conversations demonstrates how language use allows participants to simultaneously reminisce about their collective past, maintain Mexican identities tied to their ancestors, fit their identities to contemporary U.S. Mexican culture, and distance themselves from the stigma associated with the ranchero background.
So, why writing with an accent? Well, in short, to construct and showcase our identities… but it’s much more complicated than that.