The Role of Race in the Stereotyping of a Speaker’s Accent as Native or Non-native

(1) Eureka High School, Eureka, Missouri, (2) Wildwood, Missouri, (3) University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia
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An accent is a distinctive way a language is pronounced in a nation, community, or social class. Everyone has an accent, and we acquire our accents from listening to the people around us. Non-Caucasian children born in the United States most often speak English with a standard American accent, but they are often perceived to speak with a non-native accent. Three studies were done over three years to understand this behavior. In the first study, we hypothesized that the speaker’s race would play a role in the perception of the speaker’s accent. We found that the race of the speaker alone influenced the perception of the speaker’s accent as native or non-native, with native representing the standard American accent. In the second study, we hypothesized that listeners’ exposure to a linguistically diverse environment would help prevent the formation of stereotypes. The results from the second study showed that exposure to a multicultural environment reduced listeners’ stereotyping of a speaker’s accent based on the attributed race of the speaker, and this was independent of the race of the listener. Lastly, the third study explored the effectiveness of a brief intervention program that directly educated participants about speech stereotyping. We hypothesized that children would be more receptive to the educational program on stereotypes than adults. Our study showed that adults were receptive to education on stereotypes; however, the study on children’s receptiveness to education on stereotypes was inconclusive.

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