Friday, December 30, 2005

A brain like Albert Einstein and a voice like Vera Duckworth

A bizarre combination, but one introduced by Khalid Aziz whose Aziz Corporation has carried out a survey of businesspeople to explore attitudes to accents in the workplace.

"Even if you think like Albert Einstein, the reality is that if you sound like Vera Duckworth you will face prejudices in the business world," claims Aziz, before going on to say, "Experience shows that the key is to avoid using localised vocabulary, which others may not recognise".

So, do prejudices to accent and dialect exist in our society, and if so will they really hold you back? It's an interesting question and one that is probably not best answered by businesspeople themselves. Who are the Aziz Corporation? They sound a bit like a group of James Bond supervillains to me... And is the focus of their survey accent or dialect (the way we speak or what we say)? It seems a touch unclear.

Howard Giles once carried out a telling piece of research - the matched guise experiment - that has been replicated by students all over the country in coursework investigations. He found that while many respondents claimed to like regional accents for their warmth and friendliness (both rather vague judgements about the personality of the speakers who used them) they were much more likely to regard the speakers of RP as having more authority and expertise. (I've summarised this a little loosely, but that's the gist of it: a more detailed look at regional variations can be found in this extract from Peter Trudgill's book.)

So, is this what's happening with attitudes to regional and national accents in Aziz's survey? It seems to be, but we'd need to know more about the way the survey was conducted and the nature of the responses. I might just follow this up with him...

Meanwhile, for all the talk of multi-ethnic youth dialect and growing tolerance towards non-standard varieties, are we maybe kidding ourselves that the people who make the big decisions that really affect us (like giving us a job, a mortgage or a payrise) are as fair as we might want them to be? Perhaps there's still a huge reservoir of prejudice towards accents that aren't seen as "normal" - whatever that might be.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties

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