"accent prejudice" favors Texans?

Patricia Cukor-Avila pcavila at UNT.EDU
Wed Oct 30 01:28:56 UTC 2002

To ADS-L readers,
I don't normally post long messages to this list, but in light of the fact that the news piece from WOAI on the accent discrimination study done at UNT is rampant with errors and misrepresents the research that Dianne Markley and I did, I felt I needed to set the record straight.  I've had a long conversation with Dianne, who was interviewed for this piece, and I asked her to make some comments - I've pasted them below.
Briefly, here are some clarifications about the research:
1. The hiring managers who were the respondents for the study were NOT all men - the 10 subjects for the study were men.  Our study can only speak to how men were perceived by male and female hiring managers.  As Dianne mentions, the next phase of the research will study how women with various regional accents are perceived by BOTH men and women who are in hiring positions.
2. This research does NOT measure (nor makes any suggestions about) the influence of the speech/accents of public figures, politicians, or Hollywood idols on the subjective reactions of our respondents.
3. We have no idea (and our research doesn't measure) whether having a Texas accent was viewed as positive in the 60s, and furthermore, if John Wayne's accent had anything to do with how Texans were perceived.  This goes for the ridiculous statement that was made about the 80s and influence of the TV show Dallas.
4. The article leads readers to believe that our research shows that if you have a Texas accent then your chances of being hired are greater than if you don't have a Texas accent.  This is a gross overgeneralization.  What this phase of the research SUGGESTS is that if the hiring manager is Texan, self-reports that he/she has a Texas accent and likes that accent, recognizes the accent of the subject as being Texan, then that person will rate the Texan highest overall.  We don't have enough data from hiring managers from other regions to determine if this would be the case for say someone from Boston interviewing a fellow Bostonian.

Below are Dianne's comments:

   Well, it looks like that reporter from San Antonio had a definite agenda - and our research wasn't it!  He interviewed me on tape for a radio news show.  The interview was NOT like what is portrayed in the article.  It seems that he took his own questions and comments - which he sometimes did not get me to react to like he wanted - and pretended these were quotes from me.  When he asked about the Sopranos, I intentionally danced around the subject because I did not want him to be able to say I said anything about a particular show!  To be honest, I have never seen The Sopranos and was only reacting to his description of the show - he makes it seem as if I came up with it.  For the record, here is how it actually went:

He asked questions about the study, and everything was fine.  But then, he asked if regional accents were going away - a general question rather than one about our study.  I told him that no research that I knew of supported the theory that accents were going away. He asked why I thought that was - and I said that there was no way to know exactly why, but perhaps it was a reaction intended to pull back our individual identities.  He then asked if having a Texas President in the White house would make a difference in how a Texas accent would be perceived.  I explained that our leaders may have an influence in our perceptions about what particular pronunciation are acceptable at any given time - but that changes and was NOT the case with the Texas respondents in our study, since this research has been going on since before Bush was President.  He then asked about the show "The Sopranos" and whether or not the media influenced our thinking.  I said that the media has always had a tendency to portray certain stereotypical traits with certain regional accents - the dumb southern Sheriff and the New York/New Jersey gangster, for example - but that we did not know if the influence came from the media or if the media was just reflecting an opinion that came from somewhere else.  That was the end of the interview and I had to insist that he let me say one more thing - that the purpose of publicizing the research was not to make people self conscious about their accents - but to make hiring managers aware of a hidden bias that may be influencing their decisions to hire or not to hire.  That was it.  The whole thing took less than 3 minutes.  I think I will call him and let him know how much I dislike being misquoted - and in such a stupid way!

Such are the perils of granting interviews about our research.

Patricia Cukor-Avila, Chair
Linguistics Division
University of North Texas
Department of English
P.O. Box 311307
Denton, TX  76203-1307

pcavila at unt.edu
(940) 565-4577 (office)
(940) 565-4355 (fax)

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