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Tennessee Nuclear Lab Cancels 'Lose Your Southern Accent' Class

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Image: A view of the East Tennessee Technology Park, a site within the Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, deep in the heart of Tennessee, offered its staff members a course in how to lose their Southern accents.U.S. Department of Energy via Reuters file

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A nuclear lab in Tennessee has canceled a "Southern accent reduction" class after employees raised heck about what they saw as a slap in their Southern faces, the class instructor said Tuesday.

Lisa Scott, a speech pathologist in Knoxville, Tennessee, told NBC News that Oak Ridge National Laboratory — the U.S. Energy Department's largest science and energy research facility — hired her to help staff members neutralize their Southern accents.

Many businesses offer "accent neutralization" services for employees hired from foreign countries, and some do for native American English speakers with strong regional accents, especially in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, Scott said. Oak Ridge's course was the first she'd heard of by a government agency. Scott said her course in no way sought to stigmatize Southern accents. "Many people who live and work in a particular region may have no need or desire to change," she said. "But for people working with other people from other regions, they could benefit from having their accent neutralized."

The problem was with how the course was described in an internal Oak Ridge email. It "came across in such a way that some people interpreted it that their Southern accent was a problem," she said. Oak Ridge didn't answer a call for comment. Its outgoing voicemail message was delivered by a man with a distinct drawl.

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