Language attitudes towards speech stimuli and geographic locations in South East England: Britain’s hierarchy of accents continues to disadvantage the working class and/or ethnic minority speakers.
2022-04-12, 12:30–13:00 (Europe/Vienna), Room 6

Across the last 50 years, research has shown a remarkable consistently in the hierarchy of British accents revealed by respondents’ evaluations of accent labels (Giles, 1970; Bishop et al, 2005; Levon et al., 2020). England’s standard variety, Received Pronunciation (RP), is consistently evaluated most positively whilst working-class and ethnic varieties are evaluated negatively. This study presents language attitudes amongst young people (18-33yrs) in South East England based on firstly, speech stimuli and secondly, geographic areas. In this study, based on audio recordings, 102 speakers were evaluated by 194 respondents on social status (intelligent, speaks correctly) and solidarity measures (friendly, trustworthy, similar). Respondents then drew on a digitised map the areas they believed the speaker was most likely from. Cross-referencing these two tasks allowed for a more covert measure of language attitudes towards geographic areas. That is, when a respondent evaluated a speaker negatively on social status and solidarity measures, where did they independently believe the speaker was from? The results reveal a discrepancy between how geographic areas and socio-demographic groups are evaluated which could not be captured if respondents were instead evaluating a language label. A series of heatmaps demonstrate that the most negatively evaluated regions of South East England are those which are have a higher population and/or are most associated with ethnic minority and/or working-class groups: East London and southern Essex. Nonetheless, speakers from these areas were not all necessarily evaluated negatively. Instead, regardless of geographic origin, in South East England, the most negatively evaluated speakers were working-class and from an ethnic minority background. A series of generalised linear models found that firstly, ethnic minority speakers were evaluated as having less social status than white British speakers. Secondly, the lower a speakers’ class, the more likely they were to be judged as having both lower social status and solidarity. These results held even when the data was interrogated by the respondents’ demographic factors. For instance, ethnic minority respondents evaluated other ethnic minority speakers more negatively than they did white speakers. Similarly, working-class respondents evaluated working-class respondents more negatively than middle class speakers. This study demonstrates that the previously reported hierarchy of accents is still prevalent in Britain. This study has expanded upon previous research which collected language attitudes towards language labels. Instead, this study demonstrates a complex interaction between language attitudes made towards firstly, geographic locations and secondly, speech stimuli produced by different socio-demographic groups.


Bishop, H., Coupland, N., & Garrett, P. (2005). Conceptual accent evaluation: Thirty years of accent prejudice in the UK. Acta linguistica hafniensia, 37(1), 131-154.
Giles, H. (1970). Evaluative reactions to accents. Educational review, 22(3), 211-227.
Levon, E., Sharma, D., Watt, D., & Perry, C. (2020). Accent Bias: Implications for Professional Recruiting.

I am a sociolinguist at the University of Essex. I research language variation and change as well as language attitudes with a focus on social class and the accents in South East England.