Thursday, 28 November 2019

Accent Bias: Responses to Accent Labels

Continuing our series of posts related to the 'Accent Bias in Britain' project, in this blog post we discuss some findings from our research which investigated current attitudes to accents in Britain.


In the first part of our study, we replicated Coupland & Bishop's study (2007, summarised in an earlier blog post) to see whether the accent attitudes that people held 12 years ago still persist today. A similar study was conducted by Giles in 1970, giving us a further time point to compare our results.

We recruited a sample of over 800 participants aged between 18 and 79 via a market research firm. The group of participants was intended to be a representative sample of the UK population, so was balanced for gender and region (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) and included all major ethnicity groups.

Once participants had been recruited, they were asked to respond to 38 British accent 'labels', such as 'Estuary English', 'Received Pronunciation', 'Multicultural British English', and 'Birmingham English'. You can listen to some of these accents here. The participants were asked to rate each accent label on a scale of 1-7 - where 1 is the lowest and 7 is the highest - for the prestige and pleasantness of the accent.

After they had completed the survey, we collected social information about the participant, including their gender, ethnicity, age, region of origin, highest level of education, occupation, English accent, languages spoken. We also asked them to complete a short questionnaire about their exposure to different UK accents, the diversity of their own social networks, their beliefs about bias in Britain, and respond to a series of questions designed to measure how much they were concerned about being perceived as prejudiced.


As the image above shows, when compared with Giles' results in 1969, Coupland and Bishop's results in 2004, our findings (2019) demonstrate that whilst there are some minor differences, overall, attitudes to accents in the UK remain fairly stable. Standard accents, such as Received Pronunciation (RP) remain very highly rated, whereas ethnic and urban accents, such as Birmingham English, are rated much less favourably. These findings appear to be stable across the three time points.

Want to replicate this study? 
We've developed a series of Language Investigations and Teaching Units that helps students and teachers develop a research project of their own! Head over to Teach Real English! to access these resources.  

However, all is not lost it seems. Although we see similar patterns across the three studies, we do see a gradual improvement in the ratings of the accents that are rated the lowest (Afro-Caribbean, Liverpool, Indian, Birmingham). In fact, our 2019 study reports quite the improvement in overall ratings of these accents. It's therefore possible that people view these accents much more positively than they did 50 years ago.

However, this study examines only responses to 'accent labels'. What would we find if we played actual audio recordings of these accents to participants? Would we see the same results? In the next blog post, we introduce the findings from the second part of our study. In the meantime, you can find our more about the project by visiting the project website. 

This summary was written by Christian Ilbury

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