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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics

Abstract

This paper examines evaluations of Asian accented English by American listeners. Despite widely circulating stereotypes about Asian accents, and the substantial body of work on attitudes toward different language varieties, relatively few studies have looked at American attitudes toward Asian accented English, and those that exist have produced rather ambiguous results. In an online survey, respondents from across the United States rated different voices on several traits grouped into three dimensions: Attractiveness, Status, and Dynamism. Three different Accent Conditions were tested: Mainstream US English [MUSE], Asian Accented English [AA], and Brazilian Portuguese Accented English [BP]. Results indicate generally negative evaluations of Asian accented English. RM ANOVAs (N = 69) reveal that AA voices were rated significantly lower than MUSE voices on all dimensions, and significantly lower than BP voices on Attractiveness and Dynamism. Even on intelligence, a trait that forms a cornerstone of the ‘Model Minority’ stereotype of Asian Americans, AA voices were rated significantly lower than the other two groups. There were also differences according to Speaker Gender, with a tendency for female speakers in the AA and BP conditions to be rated more favorably than male speakers. Overall, this study provides important evidence of the significant attitudinal obstacles that anyone who speaks English with an Asian accent in the US is likely to encounter, and points to the need for further work that explores the social and linguistic factors behind accent bias.

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