Cross-post from FL-LIST: British accent stereotypes - 'news'

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Apr 4 13:42:20 UTC 2008

Forwarded from the forensic linguistics list.  (Pretty amazing that
research has actually shown that people form impressions of others
based on how they speak...)


>Date:         Fri, 4 Apr 2008 10:17:04 +0100
>Sender: The discussion list for Language and the Law
>From: Mark Griffiths <gin.lake at VIRGIN.NET>
>Subject: [FL-LIST] British accent stereotypes - 'news'
>A British psychologist has revealed that perceptions are 'affected by
>accent' and that British regional and social accents are subject to social
> (story reproduced below)
>It is interesting that despite some 40 years of language attitudes
>research and regular academic and media publication of research exploring
>accent perception, such a story is presented in the media as new 'news'.
>Why should this be the case?
>Some possible explanations....?
>- The field of psychology has a louder voice than linguistics.
>- Psychologists and linguists need greater cross-discipline communication.
>- More broadly, there remains a fascination with accent amongst the
>general public - not just academics. This general public likes to hear
>stories related to the social meaning of accent and accent stereotypes,
>but needs it to be presented as 'news' in order for it to be accessible.
>- The reporting of such stories has little impact on the general public's
>attitudes. As the stereotypes don't change, the story remains valid, each
>time it resurfaces.
>- Media editors are non-linguists the same as other members of the general
>public and do not engage with linguistic themes beyond the point the
>soundbite of a good story. As long as linguistics remains a field that
>lives in the media shadows, stories of links between, say, accent and
>criminality will always sound like news.
>Thoughts, anyone?
>Mark Griffiths
>Prifysgol Caerdydd / Cardiff University
>DU / UK
>Accent could affect how intelligent people are thought to be, a new study
>The study, which matched accents with perceived intelligence, found
>speaking in a Birmingham accent gives a worse impression than saying
>nothing at all. Scientists at Bath Spa University asked 48 volunteers to
>compare accents.
>Dr Lance Workman, who led the team of researchers, said that one of the
>reasons for doing the study "was to find out about stereotypes". They
>compared the Yorkshire accent with those from Birmingham and with the
>clipped tone of what is known as Queen's English, or received
>pronunciation (RP), while looking at photos of female models.
>They then repeated the experiment in silence, and while accents had no
>impact on the perception of beauty, it significantly affected the
>intelligence rating. The silent test scored higher than the
>Birmingham "Brummie" accent, with the Yorkshire accent being rated the
>Dr Workman presented his findings at the British Psychological Society's
>annual meeting in Dublin. He said: "Surveys have shown that a lot of
>people associate Birmingham with criminal activity, and they associate
>criminal activity with low intelligence.
>"Can I just say that whenever I've been to Birmingham I've found people to
>be very bright and friendly.

The American Dialect Society -

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