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everest cs Blog » Blog Archive » You Speak with an Accent – Stop Kidding Yourself

You Speak with an Accent – Stop Kidding Yourself

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Accents, and how they are received, generally have a lot to do with perception. This perception, not the accent itself, can influence how a listener identifies the speaker.  Because accents are generally regional and can identify a social class or ethnicity, stereotypes can form.

Litmus for Prejudice

Agata Gluszek, Yale PhD candidate, noted in her research published in The Personality and Social Psychology Review, that “children’s movies often use foreign accents to portray nasty characters.” Gluszek found that German, Russian and Eastern European accents are stereotypically used to identify villains. Certain accents, such as British or Western European, are considered by many to be more polished and sophisticated than others. These are generally stereotyped as upper-class, educated and cultured. Accents, therefore, can become a litmus test for prejudice.

There are studies that show speakers with non-standard accents often experience discrimination in housing, schooling and employment.  For example, landlords are less likely to call back speakers with foreign or ethnic accents and employers are more likely to assign them lower status positions than those with ‘standard’ accents.

In business settings, individuals with non-standard accents are more likely to be evaluated negatively. In Europe, one survey discovered that 45% of hiring managers believed that a job candidate’s accent could “put them at a disadvantage compared to an equally qualified person without an accent.”

Accent Reduction

If you speak with what others consider an accent and you believe you have experienced negative consequences you might consider participating in an accent-neutralizing program. These types of programs help speakers strip the regional influences from their speech. For English speakers, they can develop what is currently termed “English as an International Language”, or EIL. This might pique your interest if you are in Customer Service, Medical or other fields that expose you to a large public.

The decision to neutralize your accent is not an easy one. Neutralizing your accent comes at a price: you lose part of what defines you – part of who you are. Your accent identifies you with others from your culture or heritage. When traveling in a foreign country and you hear a stranger speaking in your accent, an instant bond is formed. You get a sense of nostalgia.

Authenticity

Another approach would be to embrace your accent. Make it your brand, your signature. For example, Sivasailam Thiagrajan – “Thiagi” to his fans, the East Indian creator of Rapid Instructional Design and author of over 40 books, effectively delivers speeches and training to people around the world. Accent and all. Thiagi is able to enthrall audiences because he has developed his accent into a brand. I believe that what some may see as a handicap actually adds to his credibility.

The fact is we all speak with an accent – to someone. How detectable it is varies from person to person, and region to region. Whether your accent is a handicap or a brand, is up to you.

For more reading about dialects & accents – check out this blog: http://dialectblog.com

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4 Responses to “You Speak with an Accent – Stop Kidding Yourself”

  1. Being from Long Island, or as many people hear it, “Lawng Guyland”, I found your post especially interesting. I find it interesting when I travel that I’m almost always pegged as being from New York, and sometimes even from Long Island. It’s true about the dangers of stereotyping. I’ve spoken with a number of people who hear the Long Island accent and immediately associate it with Amy Fisher – not exactly a role model for the Long Island community.

    Thanks for the informative post.

  2. Thank you so much for your story. Your example validated that accents ARE regional AND they can invoke stereotypes. Whenever people hear me speak they start punctuating their sentences with “mon” and I’m not even Jamaican.

    For me, Fran Drescher’s character Nanny Fine is one accent that is stuck in my head about NY. But I imagine there are many versions of a NY accent from one Borough to the next.

  3. Maria Smith, PhD Says:

    When I first came to Louisiana to pursue graduate studies in English, an undergrad told me I had an accent. I responded “So do you.” She kept insisting until I acknowledged my “accent,” as if we don’t all have accents. The point is that we tend to stereotype accents. So although a southern accent is quite distinct from a northern one, this southerner heard my non-american slightly British accent and I imagine, tried to feel better about her southern way of speaking. Now I live in the north east and strangely enough, children of foreign born parents would attempt to mock my accent, despite their own heavily accented speech. Nothing changes.

  4. “You have an accent,” when stated outright, is pretty much a euphemism for “you don’t sound like I think I do.” Sometimes that’s said in surprise, and sometimes (alas) in judgment.

    The linguish Max Weinrich loved to repeat a distinction provided by someone at one of his lectures:

    A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.

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