Working class Birmingham and Afro Caribbean accents sit at the bottom of an “enduring hierarchy of accents” in the UK, a study has found. A new study led by Queen Mary University of London examined current attitudes to English regional, class, and ethnic accents. According to the research, non-standard working-class and ethnic accents tend to be penalised, while middle-class “standard” speech was more highly rated and considered “prestigious”.
Academic Article: Pantos, Andrew J., and Andrew W. Perkins. “Measuring Implicit and Explicit Attitudes Toward Foreign Accented Speech.” Journal of Language & Social Psychology, vol. 32, no. 1, Mar. 2013, pp. 3–20.
This study applies concepts and methods from the domain of Implicit Social Cognition to examine language attitudes toward foreign and U.S. accented speech. Implicit attitudes were measured using an Implicit Association Test (IAT) that incorporated audio cues as experimental stimuli. Explicit attitudes were measured through self-report questionnaires. Participants exhibited a pro-U.S. accent bias on the IAT measure but a pro-foreign accent bias on explicit measures. This divergence supports the conclusion that implicit and explicit attitudes are separable attitude constructs resulting from distinct mental processes and suggests that language attitudes research—which has traditionally measured only explicit attitudes—would benefit by incorporating indirect measures. The Associative-Propositional Evaluation Model is proposed as a comprehensive and consistent theory to explain the cognitive processing of language attitudes.
Academic Article: Zheng, Yi, and Arthur Samuel. “Does Seeing an Asian Face Make Speech Sound More Accented?” Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, vol. 79, no. 6, Aug. 2017, pp. 1841–1859
Prior studies have reported that seeing an Asian face makes American English sound more accented. The current study investigates whether this effect is perceptual, or if it instead occurs at a later decision stage. We first replicated the finding that showing static Asian and Caucasian faces can shift people's reports about the accentedness of speech accompanying the pictures. When we changed the static pictures to dubbed videos, reducing the demand characteristics, the shift in reported accentedness largely disappeared. By including unambiguous items along with the original ambiguous items, we introduced a contrast bias and actually reversed the shift, with the Asian-face videos yielding lower judgments of accentedness than the Caucasian-face videos. By changing to a mixed rather than blocked design, so that the ethnicity of the videos varied from trial to trial, we eliminated the difference in accentedness rating. Finally, we tested participants' perception of accented speech using the selective adaptation paradigm. After establishing that an auditory-only accented adaptor shifted the perception of how accented test words are, we found that no such adaptation effect occurred when the adapting sounds relied on visual information (Asian vs. Caucasian videos) to influence the accentedness of an ambiguous auditory adaptor. Collectively, the results demonstrate that visual information can affect the interpretation, but not the perception, of accented speech.
Academic Article: Colic-Peisker, Val, and Jim Hlavac. “Anglo-Australian and Non-Anglophone Middle Classes: ‘Foreign Accent’ and Social Inclusion.” Australian Journal of Social Issues (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ), vol. 49, no. 3, July 2014, pp. 349–371.
Building on the concept of 'multicultural middle class', this paper explores social inclusion of professionally educated and employed non-Anglophone immigrants in Australia. We focus specifically on the perceptions and implications of 'foreign accent' in the interaction between two groups of middle-class Australians: non-Anglophone immigrants and Anglo-Australians. 'Non-Anglophone immigrants' are defined as those who arrived in Australia as adults, grew up speaking a language other than English, and therefore usually speak English with a 'foreign accent'. 'Anglo-Australians' are defined as people born in Australia who grew up in families/households where only English was spoken, therefore speaking with a 'native Australian' accent. Through a survey of a targeted sample of respondents, the two groups were asked about their intergroup communication, wider interaction (e.g., intermarriage, friendships and working together) and mutual perceptions. Our findings indicate high levels of agreement between the two groups that Anglophone/non-Anglophone communication is minimally hindered by comprehension problems due to foreign-accented speech and cultural differences. Although the positive picture that emerges may reflect specific experiences and attitudes of middle-class professionals and may not be generalisable, increased contact of the 'multicultural middle class' with its Anglo-Australian counterpart is likely to be a factor in dissociating foreign accent and negative stereotyping.
“C’mon, Get Happy”: The Commodification of Linguistic Stereotypes in a Volkswagen Super Bowl Commercial.
Academic Article: Lopez Q, Hinrichs L. “C’mon, Get Happy”: The Commodification of Linguistic Stereotypes in a Volkswagen Super Bowl Commercial. Journal of English Linguistics [Internet]. 2017 Jun [cited 2019 Jan 20];45(2):130–56.
This article examines a national Volkswagen commercial broadcast on American television during the 2013 Super Bowl, and the intense public debate that met it. It shows a cheerful European American owner of a 2013 Volkswagen Beetle, who despite being from Minnesota speaks in a Jamaican Creole (JC) accent with features of Rastafarian speech. The focus of analysis is the linguistic performance of the JC as well as the linguistic reception by American and Jamaican audience members. The linguistic analysis reveals that the primary objective in how the character uses forms of JC is not linguistic authenticity, but simply to index Jamaican culture and identity through selective feature use. Our discourse analysis of the ad’s reception shows that linguistic ideologies, including ideas about what constitutes linguistic racism, vary widely among American viewers and are generally divided along racial lines. On the other hand, Jamaican viewers were found to have a more homogenous perspective. We conclude that the selection of non-local racialized stereotypes as the target of cross-racial stylization practices complicate, but do not eliminate, modern types of linguistic minstrelsy.
The reason you discriminate against foreign accents starts with what they do to your brain - Michael Erard
The science behind accent perception and comprehension
“That’s a basis on which it’s easy to make judgments about a person’s cultural affiliation or education,” says Ingrid Piller, a sociolinguist at Macquarie University in Brisbane, Australia, who studies language and migration and blogs about them. “It’s a springboard for a lot of heavy assumptions which may or may not be true.”
Historical examples of accent discrimination and trauma in the United States.
On April 3, 2009, an Asian American named Jiverly Wong shot and killed 13 people at the American Civic Association immigration center in Binghamton, New York, then turned a gun on himself. His victims included an ESL teacher and 12 immigrants who, like himself, had sought English language instruction at the Southern Tier facility.
In a paper published recently in the prestigious international journal World Englishes, professor of linguistics and director of South Asian languages Tej K. Bhatia asserts that the immigrant’s low English skills and the barriers and discrimination he experienced as a result could have motivated the worst mass killing in New York state...