According to science, your accent could be playing a far bigger role in how people perceive you than you may have realised. Especially when it comes to first impressions.
In a recent survey carried out in America, 47% of people said they considered a ‘British’ accent to be sophisticated, while 51% thought New York accents were rude.
Comparably, a Southern drawl was largely considered ‘nice but possibly uneducated’, while those with a New England accent were seen to be ‘intelligent’.
While it’s nothing new to say that both regional and international accents can have a bearing on how people judge you, a new video from the folks at AsapScience has delved into the science behind why exactly this happens.
Examining theories of language acquisition, the team explore how accents, be they a strong twang or simply subtle inflections, can play a role in defining both who we are and other people’s perceptions of us.
So what did they discover?
First up, and perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, the researchers found that it’s human nature to feel a favourable bias towards others who sound like us, or share our accent. Familiarity is comforting, after all.
But when it comes to accents, there are two different types which we all tend to distinguish between; a native accent, determined in the English language largely by geography and socioeconomic status (a cockney accent versus the Queen’s English, for example), and an ‘additional language’ or non-native accent - such as learning to speak Spanish as an English speaker.
AsapScience found that while a regional accent can be phased out to some degree via modified pronunciation of syllables and phonemes, a non-native accent is almost impossible to eradicate fully, especially after the age of 12.
Why? Well, it’s all in the phonemes, and the way in which our brains get set in their ways.
Every language has phonemes that are unique to it - our ‘th’ sound for example, doesn’t exist in German - which make it difficult for non-natives to ever really nail a foreign accent completely.
After the age of six, say the AsapScience team, our ability to learn new languages, with all their complex subtleties, decreases significantly, and after the age 12, it doesn’t matter how long you spend living in a foreign country, you’ll likely never be able to switch your native accent for the non-native totally.
What’s more, the subtleties of language and sound formations are so finespun, that we’re only able to hear them in other languages as babies. Studies show that after 10 months, our abilities to recognise the difference between phonemes which do not exist in our own native tongue, dramatically decreases.
So what does it all mean for the way in which others perceive us? That a largely depends on the openness of those around you.
A 2015 poll found that British accents were considered the most ‘attractive’ in the world, beating French, Spanish and Italian accents, while a different study carried out last year found that within the UK, those who speak with a Birmingham accent were considered to be ‘less intelligent’ during a first encounter.
The poll carried out by The University of South Wales found that Yorkshire accents were considered to be the most ‘intelligent’, followed by those who speak in the Queen’s English.