Research Paper on Why Other Accents Are Perceived to Be More Prestigious Than Others

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1778 Words
Date:  2022-10-25


Numerous studies have reported that seeing an individual's face makes American English sound more or less accented. This paper investigates how fundamentally one's accent might affect the way others perceive them. In this paper, the different stereotypes associated with different accents are discussed, and the 'all sound alike' phenomenon is also discussed. The biases used in perceiving people from other accents could lead to reduced credibility in different speeches, accent discrimination, impact one's probability to secure employment and also affect how they are perceived in their professions. In this research, an investigation into why other accents are perceived to be more prestigious than others is performed alongside a discussion of our unconscious tendency to copy speech patterns of our mates. The literature reviewed in this paper concludes that it is very vital to have an awareness of how accents can change our judgments about others and how others might perceive us based on how we speak. In response to the research question, this paper provides an understanding that can help us move towards a better sense of acceptance and respect of other people's ethnic backgrounds especially those expanding concerning globalization.

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With the ever-increasing trend in globalization, many people are exposed to accented speech and the number of individuals exposed to the same is growing by day particularly in a culturally diverse country like the US. Statements have an accent which can either be foreign or regional. Many factors also affect the judgment of the listener concerning how much of an accent is in a particular speech. These factors include properties such as lexical frequency, sounds, visual cues, and cultural backgrounds. This study is focused on investigating whether a simple act of seeing an American, Asian or African could make speech sound more accented and is the difference in accented speech visible between male and females. The voice is critical in determining how we perceive others because it conveys information about other people's emotions, thoughts, and intentions. The manner in which we say something could also have a significant influence on the formation of impression compared to the contents of the message in itself. Mainly, accents help individuals to pronounce better, enunciate or stress words in a speech. Accents also can be salient markers of out-group members and in this manner evoke negative stereotypes and judgments.

Research by Kinzler, Shutts, Dejesus & Spelke (2009) reveals that since early childhood, individuals begin to show a preference for their accents. Perceptions of different accents have a severe effect on the quality of education, employment opportunities and credibility of verbal testimony. Categorizing individuals is a natural process of the mind which provides room for efficient information processing. It is interesting to find out that accent is presently being used over appearance to categorize individuals. For instance, an Italian man who speaks fluent German is more attractive. This research aims at finding the connection between voices with accents and attractiveness. This research makes use of six audio clips with accents; plays them for respondents to rate on a questionnaire. African, Asian and American accents were represented by each male and female, and the researchers found no relationship between American accents with either African or Asian accents. However, there was a strong relationship between Asian and African accents. The following chapter provides a literature review on language ideologies, stigma and discrimination and reduced credibility of foreign accents after examination of accents. The focus of the literature review is on both standard and non-standard accents as well as social evaluations of attractiveness from accents.

Language Ideologies

Language ideologies are a general reflection of what people believe about the essential characteristics of a particular language and how it should be used. Most people are socialized into language ideologies and used these ideologies to create an explanation for the meaning and source of links between certain social phenomena like attractiveness and language use. With doctrines, the public is presented with an organizational pattern through which linguistic diversity is evaluated, interpreted and perceived. These language ideologies, in the end, shape our attitude towards those who use particular language varieties as well as their speakers. In turn, media representation, educational practices, and government policies help promote such schemas.

In an experiment conducted by Kerstholt, Jansen, Van Amelsvoort &Broeders (2006), the authors investigated the reliability of voice lineups. To be more specific, the authors designed this experiment to look into the effects of retention interval, speech duration and acoustic environment on speaker identification accuracy. Adding to these factors, the authors also investigated the relationship between the confidence of both male and females and identified accuracy. Studying a total of 361, the target for this research was the voice. There were effects found on attractiveness immediately after testing participants accents. However, confidence scores were what the authors used to predict the value of accents. Therefore from this research, there was no direct correlation on accent and attractiveness, but the relationship between pronunciation and confidence was found. This research revealed how private and public expressions of attitudes have been condoned to conform to language norms. The investigation into attitudes and ideologies has shown how we often shape each other and serve each other to reinforce beliefs of subordination and domination as a result of accentedness in language.

Stigma and Discrimination

Majority of research also reveals that attractiveness from an accent is as a result of developing attitudes towards non-native speakers in many countries whether the international or immigrant student and these attitudes are usually negative (Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010). A foreign accent is depicted as a clear signal that an individual is not native born and is a member of an out-group which comes with a natural extension of the assumption that they are not fluent in that language. A non-native accent is most times seen as an undesirable characteristic and is associated with negative evaluations of a person. According to Gluszek & Dovidio (2010), exotic accents are also more likely to be related to people of low status compared to native-accented employees. In their research, Gluszek & Dovidio (2010) identified that non-accented individuals are usually viewed not only to be less attractive but are also less competent, less loyal and are slow in comprehension. As a result, in an interview, non-native speakers are usually less likely to hire or might be assigned to employers of low status and put on weak earnings. According to these researchers, the mere perception of non-native speakers can have a lasting impact on how one identifies with others in as much as these stereotypes might not be accurate.

Reduced Credibility of Foreign Accents

We might not consciously realize it, but people tend to be more suspicious of those with heavy accents. In a different study by Lev-Ari & Keysar (2010), non-native speakers with heavier accents were investigated. In their research, both native speakers with native accents and non-native speakers with foreign accents were made to repeat trivia statement given by an experimenter, and the participants were later evaluated on how truthful they perceived the messages from the speaker. In this study, the foreign-accented speech was viewed to be less accurate compared to the native speech which meant that international speakers had difficulty in processing language thus prejudice statements against them. International speakers were less attractive compared to native speakers because they were unable to process quickly what the speaker was saying not because they were stupid but because of the accent of the speaker. However, when participants were made aware of their trouble to understand, they made an effort to avoid misunderstanding, but the effect remained the same when they heard a very heavy accent.

Accent Attractiveness

Using accent prestige theory, Anderson et al., (2007) investigate the judgment of participants from Latin-America, Britain, Standard-America and those from the Middle East. The authors had participants fill out questionnaires rating trustworthiness, perceived intelligence and physical attractiveness of the recorded accent. In his conclusion, the authors predicted the following; that Middle East and Latin America accented speakers would have a lower rating on the three scales compared to standard American speakers and British speakers. In the statistical significance, it was proven that those of the British and Standard American accents received higher physical and intelligence ratings. In the end, the authors call for further research because the results do not support the accent prestige theory since there is no real effect of accent on perception.

Eisenchlas &Tsurutani (2011) focused their study on attitudes towards language and revealed that native speakers of English find those who share in the native accent to be more attractive. This study investigated the perceptions held by Australian university students learning foreign languages in response to lecturers with non-standard English accents. The researchers used a modified matched-guise technique to test student responses to samples of speech from six speakers. The results in this study agreed with other researches that students ranked highly professors with an accented speech suggesting that they were ready to accept foreign accents because of the attractiveness that comes with it.

Kozlowski (2015) in his research focused on the influence of accent on social perception. According to his study, the more American an accent is the more attractive one is to a particular group of people. However, his research was based mostly on the positive and negative responses speakers get as a result of using a specific accent. Typically, his analysis identifies that the standard-native accent of particular countries is considered to be more desirable, signals in group membership and is primarily used to communicate that one holds an upper-class position. And because specific language users are deemed to be uneducated, and from the lower social class, those from the stereotypes accents tend to unconsciously imitate the behaviors, mannerisms, facial expressions and body postures of those from accented speeches. The presence of a heavy accent according to this author leads to discrimination which later affects many areas of a person's life. In the end, unique accents such as British and American are perceived to be more attractive than others thus finding the same individuals more attractive.


The present study employed a descriptive approach. This research used university students and approval was obtained as well as participant consents before beginning the study. There was no particular design applied to the study, but 93 participants were used. Participants for the study were randomly selected and assigned to one of the three accents. The voice stimuli technique was used. The method involved delivering messages to participants from several speakers through the same neutral passage of prose was employed. The machine was played in a way that adopted a moderate pace that keeps all aspects of speech other than accents constant throughout the study. The first speaker being American recorded a st...

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