Evaluations of accents can be used as a measure of prestige

Alarna N Samarasinghe, Richard Berl, Michael C Gavin, Fiona M Jordan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Sociolinguistic studies have established that people make judgements about speakers based on accent. Standard and non-standard accents have differing levels of prestige and demonstrate variation across other attitudinal terms. Because prestige can increase the likelihood of information transmission, we explore variation in accent prestige to determine whether accent can be used as a measure of prestige in social transmission experiments. Participants (n=152 US; 142 UK) were presented with standardised recordings of a standard passage, containing lexical terms that highlight phonological differences between accents of English. Passages were spoken by middle-aged white male speakers representing a range of eight accents from the listener’s country of residence and two from the alternative country. Participants rated the speakers on 24 different personal qualities including traits associated with prestige and friendliness. As predicted, participants rated the standard accents favourably for prestige across both locations. Participants perceived location-specific non-standard accents as having lower prestige, and accents deemed as having lower prestige as being friendlier. Accent indexes differential qualities for listeners, regardless of whether the concept is operationalised by the term “prestigious” or multiple terms related to ‘prestige’. We assert that accent can be used as an indicator of prestige in the absence of other prestige information and demonstrate the importance of locally calibrating the accents used in prestige-based social transmission experiments.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS ONE
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Nov 2019


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