Do Accents Make Workers Seem Less Credible?

Kaitlin Madden, Current Affairs, July 30, 2010

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A recent study done by the University of Chicago found that native English speakers view those with a foreign accent as being less trustworthy. The study found that the dialect distrust was not due to prejudice, but because those with accents were harder to understand. Participants in the study reported a small, yet definitive difference, between the believability of trivia statements read by native versus non-native English speakers.

On a believability scale of 1 to 10, the statements read by native English speakers were rated at a 7.5, while those read by speakers with a slight accent were rated at a 6.95, and speakers with a heavy accent were given a truthfulness rating of 6.84. It seems that the harder it is for us to understand someone, the less likely we are to trust what they’re saying.

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According to a University of Chicago press release on the study, “Accents might reduce the credibility of non-native job seekers.” Which in turn may make it more difficult for job-seekers with accents to land a job.

Though blatant accent discrimination is part of Title VII (the title of The Civil Rights Act that addresses equal opportunity employment) and is addressed in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission compliance manual, it is also specified that there are legitimate, business-related reasons for companies to require workers to speak clear English. Meaning that while it is illegal for employers to discriminate against workers with accents, they can legally choose not to hire a worker with an accent if it will interfere with the person’s ability to effectively do the job.

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But what about the regional accents here in the U.S.? We have dozens of regional dialects, from the Southern drawl, to the Texas twang, to the “Joisey” accent, to MinneSOOHta and Boston’s “pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd.” Aren’t these regional dialects just as difficult to understand? {snip}

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