Here’s why people can discriminate against foreign accents – new research


By Shiri Lev-Ari, Royal Holloway University of London London, December 5 (The Conversation) If someone asked you to read this text aloud with a French or Italian accent, you will probably understand what it means and be able to to produce versions of it, even if that is not entirely correct (assuming you are not of French or Italian mother tongue). You might even adopt one spontaneously if you quote The Godfather.

At first glance, we often like to hear different accents. The way we speak simply reflects the sounds of the language in the environment in which we grew up. It shouldn’t have any social significance. But in reality, people value accents and discriminate against non-native speakers.

While some accents, like French, can be perceived as pleasant, research on English speakers in the US and UK shows that a foreign accent is often viewed negatively.

For example, people find salespeople less knowledgeable and persuasive if they have an accent, and some research indicates they’re less likely to recommend someone for hire or promotion if the person has a foreign accent. .

Interestingly, the discrimination often seems to be independent of whether the speaker’s accent is perceived to be desirable or not. For example, people were more interested in receiving a coffee voucher if they listened to a message from a native speaker rather than someone with a foreign accent, whether or not the foreign accent was French (an accent often considered desirable), or Chinese.

Some of the bias seems to come from having a foreign accent flagging someone as an outgroup member – someone who is not in their usual circles – and people tend to favor members of the in-group versus out-group members. It is a behavior that begins in early childhood, probably because it is a direct clue to whether someone is familiar and part of our “social group”.

It’s not just about prejudice In our recent study, we show that people can discriminate against non-native speakers even if they are not prejudiced. This is because it can be more difficult to process foreign accented speech – which is pronounced differently from native norms – including accents that we don’t perceive negatively at all. And people tend to believe information less if it is harder to process.

When we presented participants with recordings of statements such as “the sun shrinks five feet every hour,” participants rated the same statements as more likely to be true when said by a speaker. native to a speaker with a Polish accent.

If at least part of the bias was due to difficulty processing speech with a foreign accent, then making it easier for participants to understand the accent should increase their tendency to believe non-native speakers. We know from previous research that accent exposure makes it easier to understand. So, we exposed half of our participants to stories read by Polish-accented speakers before they rated the trivial task. The other half listened to the same stories read by native speakers.

First, we checked whether exposure to Polish-accented speakers improved participants’ comprehension of Polish-accented speech. An accent comprehension task showed this to be the case.

A key finding of our study was that exposure to Polish-accented speech also reduced participants’ bias against non-native speakers.

While participants who were first exposed to Polish-accented speech still considered trivial statements to be more likely to be true when read by native speakers than when read by non-native speakers. Polish accent, the difference was smaller. We also found that participants who performed better on the accent comprehension task were more likely to believe trivia statements read by Polish-accented speakers.

Celebrate Accents Our study shows that simply increasing exposure to foreign-accented speech can reduce stress processing difficulties and bias. So, by creating more diverse environments where native and non-native speakers interact regularly, we could potentially help counter any unconscious discrimination based on accent. Contact between native and non-native speakers can also help reduce prejudice.

At the same time, a cultural change is needed. In addition to promoting diversity, we all need to be aware, as a first step, that each of us has an accent.

And that it is simply based on the sounds of the linguistic environment in which we grew up. Accents do not reflect intelligence, nor are they related to our fluency in a language. Indeed, non-native speakers can of course be fluent in a language while retaining their native accent. (The Conversation) AMS AMS

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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