Over-40s are more biased against people with regional accents than younger Britons and deem people from the regions less employable than others who speak with the Queen’s English
- The Queen’s English was the top rated accent according to new research
- French-accented English and Edinburgh accented English also rated highly
- Scouse, Cockney, Essex and Brummie accents all received negative ratings
- The government funded research was conducted by Queen Mary’s University
Prof Devyani Sharma, Professor of Sociolinguistics asked a group of volunteers to listen to 38 different British accents and see which attracted a negative bias
People are less likely to get a job offer if they have a working class or regional accent compared to those who use received pronunciation, a new government-funded study has found.
Experts at Queen Mary’s University, London, replicated a study first done 50 years ago to see if people judged the intelligence of others by the accent they used.
Professor Devyani Sharma, Professor of Sociolinguistics asked a group of volunteers to listen to 38 different British accents and see which attracted a negative bias.
The researchers tested members of the general public and a group of lawyers to see if they judged someone’s intelligence on their accent.
According to Prof Sharma: ‘The bad news: opinions found 50 years ago in a survey by Howard Giles remain today. In a new survey of attitudes to 38 different British accents, we found that exactly the same accents continue to attract high prestige – received pronunciation, the Queen’s English, French-accented English, Edinburgh English, one’s own accent – and the same accents continue to receive low ratings, particularly ethnic minority accents (Indian) and historically industrial urban accents (Cockney, Liverpool, Essex, Birmingham).
‘So British working class and ethnic accents still face negative bias half a century on.’
How good is your accent?
1. Received pronunciation – Queen’s English
2. French-accented English
3. Edinburgh accented English
3. Liverpool Scouse
Prof Sharma said the first recorded incidence of bias against working class accents was in 1589 when George Puttenham wrote: ‘the speach of a craftes man or carter, or other of the inferiour sort, though he be inhabitant or bred in the best towne and Citie in this Realme, for such persons doe abuse good speaches by strange accents or ill shapen soundes’.
According to Prof Sharma: ‘We all have automatic associations with accents based on people we’ve met during our lives. It’s only when we rely on these simple stereotypes to judge unrelated traits, like intelligence or competence, that our cultural baggage becomes discrimination.’
The researchers played the volunteers audio from real job interviews and according to Prof Sharma they were less likely to be biased against people despite their accent.
People from the north of England received negative ratings from those in the south East
The volunteers heard tapes of people speaking with received pronunciation, Estuary English, multi-cultural London English, and a northern middle class accent and a northern working class accent.
The research found that young people did not judge accents differently, however, once the volunteers were older than 40 they found the two working class London accents were less competent and less hireable – even though they gave the same answers as everyone else.
According to Prof Sharma: ‘Bias was also greater among people who grew up in southern England and were from a higher social class.’