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Rating accents explained

Joana Duarte PhD, explains the perceptions people have of accents.
© University of Groningen

Accents can form distinctive variations in the pronunciation of any language. They can be either native or foreign, and can deliver information about a person’s geographical origin, about different ethnicities but also about differences in socio-economic status.

The perception of accents is normal within any group of language users. In some cases, it can involve the categorisation of speakers into social groups. Judgments can be made about a speaker’s possible status but also about personality traits. In our exercise, we included ratings on friendliness, trustworthiness and cleverness, which would fall into this last category.

The development of accent perception may occur already in early childhood. As such, from a young age accents affect our perception of other people, decisions we make about when and how to interact with others, but also how other people perceive us.

Accents can thus considerably change the perception of an individual or an entire group. This is important to reflect upon since people with different accents are increasingly encountering each other in today’s globalised world. A better understanding of the role accents play in our – often inaccurate – appraisal of individuals and groups, may facilitate a larger acceptance of people different from ourselves and reduce discriminatory attitudes and behaviour.

© University of Groningen
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