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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics

Abstract

This study explores how people’s perceptions of speakers’ accents may be related to their perceptions of speakers’ professional characteristics. Sociolinguistic research continues to highlight that the ways listeners perceive accents and the ways they perceive the people who use those accents are intertwined. In addition, accent discrimination is often an underlooked form of discrimination in various aspects of society, including in workplace situations – from interview success to upward mobility. The U.S. judicial system, in theory, condemns discrimination based on national origin, race, socioeconomic status, etc. but, in reality, provides leeway for employers to discriminate based on language and uphold beliefs in standard language ideology. In the U.S., English speakers tend to view non-native English speakers as less credible or believable than native English speakers, but few other studies have explored this relationship between accent perception and the perception of personal characteristics. Our study contributes to sociolinguistic research on accent perception by exploring how accentedness interacts with the perception of specific character traits prioritized in professional situations: professionalism, confidence, believability, knowledgeability, and level of experience.

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