Why are Certain Accents Judged the Way they are? Decoding Qualitative Patterns of Accent Bias

Amee P. Shah


While it is well-established that listeners judge accents different from their own, and that this listener bias has pervasive consequences to the speakers, we have only offered a cursory attention to understand the nature of this accent bias. This paper explores listeners’ judgments, ratings, and qualitative comments associated with psychosocial, personality and behavioral attributes of seven accents. Fifty-five respondents evaluated six different attributes of seven regional and foreign accents on a Likert scale. Means, Standard Deviations, and statistical significance of the difference in the respondent ratings from the Midwestern standard were computed, as well as qualitative analyses of the judgments were conducted. Results showed that perceptual biases for many attributes of the regional and foreign accents were significant at the 95% level. Results also showed that the accent recognition was consistent across a group of people from the same region, and the identification of the region of the accent was largely accurate. Qualitative analyses revealed that the underlying bases of listener judgments are typically borne out of the influence of media, TV, and movies. Besides character traits, the listeners also frequently inferred occupations/professions from the accents. Accent judgments are not reserved for foreign accents alone; regional accents are also subject to judgments and stereotypes. Findings provide important insights for clinicians and teachers working in the area of accent interventions, specifically in improving understanding about how listeners judge accents and how those messages need to be addressed in developing awareness and empowerment for clients in accent interventions. Other implications in the field of speech language pathology, education, social science, communication and business are also discussed.


Accent, Stereotypes, Listener Bias, Accent Ratings, Listener Judgment, Qualitative Judgments, Accent Modification

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.alls.v.10n.3p.128


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