Brits Still Have Stereotypical Views Of Accents

There have long been stereotypes associated with people from different regions of the UK and because we have so many very distinct accents in this country, often the accents get attached to those stereotypes too.

50 years ago, Howard Giles carried out a survey of 38 British accents to find out what people thought of them. In his study, he discovered that there are certain accents that attract high prestige. These include received pronunciation, the Queen’s English, Edinburgh English and French-accented English.

Interestingly, people also associated their own accent with high prestige, which goes to show how important it is to consider these kinds of perceptions when you’re organising any kind of advertising or media work.

At the other end of the scale, accents with consistently low scores included those from Birmingham, Liverpool and Essex, as well as Cockney. Ethinic minority accents, such as English spoken with an Indian accent, also received low scores.

So, that was 50 years ago, have our attitudes changed at all? An article for Yahoo! recently revealed that we’re very stuck in our ways when it comes to our perceptions of accents.

Devyani Sharma, professor of sociolinguistics at Queen Mary University of London, wrote a piece explaining her own research into this area.

Professor Sharma and her team set out to discover whether people judge others on their abilities and intelligence based on their accents rather than what they say. As well as surveying members of the public, they also looked specifically at how recruiters view different accents.

They found that the same accents attract high prestige as those identified by Howard Giles. Similarly, those at the bottom of the list were also the same.

However, when the team played people clips of professionals interviewing for a job, the bias between accents narrowed, with Professor Sharma explaining that this indicates people were “more careful about letting accent biases affect whether they thought the person was a good fit for the job”.

When Professor Sharma and her team conducted a similar exercise with a group of lawyers, they found that the bias was reduced even further, with the lawyers focusing very much on what someone said rather than how they said it.

Although this indicates that, professionally at least, people are able to put accents aside, it still shows the importance of accents in terms of how we perceive people, and subsequently what they say.

There are growing calls for more regional accents to make it onto our TV screens and radios, with BBC political correspondent Chris Mason recently stating that the broadcaster should make an effort to introduce more regional accents across its programmes.

The Daily Mail reported on his comments, where he said: “We’re broadcasting to a country with this incredibly rich diversity of voices and accents, and we hardly hear any of them broadcasting on the national airwaves.”

Mr Mason, who has a Yorkshire accent, also said that he believes his accent helped him land his job as the host of Any Questions? because there’s now greater awareness of the need for the broadcaster to “sound like the audience it’s broadcasting to”.

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