Results

Results and Data

In line with the principles of open science and British Academy regulations, the study was pre-registered and data made available at the Open Science Foundation website. Moreover, the data collected and the analyses for this funded research project are available via the OSF site for public open access.

Research involved:

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Participants
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Implicit association reaction time trials
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Instruments

Speaking of Prejudice: Project Findings

The specific words, sounds, and grammar that a speaker uses carry a great deal of social meaning and often evoke strong reactions form the listener, whether consciously or unconsciously, regarding notions of correctness and appropriateness of the speech and the speaker’s social identity. Public attitudes towards particular accents are especially impactful since they reflect evaluations of the communities of speakers. Such language attitudes are thus indicative of wider social stereotypes and group biases and knowledge of these speaker evaluations can help researchers account for levels of societal prejudice. However, listeners are often unaware of their more deeply embedded ‘implicit’ biases which may remain even when more conscious ‘explicit’ judgements become less prejudiced.

Speaking of Prejudice is large-scale research project incorporating cutting-edge implicit and self-report instruments, adapted from social psychology, investigating the evaluations of over 300 English nationals. Specifically, data was collected measuring English nationals’ perceptions of both the status (e.g., in terms of traits associated with education and intelligence) and social attractiveness (e.g., in terms of traits associated with friendliness and honesty) of (speakers of) Northern English and Southern English speech in England: the most socially meaningful distinction made between regional varieties in England (Wales 2006).

The study incorporated an Implicit Association Test (IAT) and a self-report attitude scale to investigate the English nationals implicit and explicit language attitudes. Fine-grained analysis of the data demonstrated that Southern English speech and, by turn, their speakers, was evaluated as more prestigious than (speakers of) Northern English at implicit and explicit levels. By contrast, in terms of social attractiveness, Northern English was rated positively at explicit levels but more negatively at implicit levels. The study results suggest that – as a result of traditional stereotyping of the north of England with poverty, marginalisation and industrial decline and the southern regions as the axis of power, wealth and opportunity – biases against Northern English and the associated community of speakers remain intact, especially at more deeply embedded levels of evaluation. Nonetheless, analysis of differences in the regional affiliation, gender and age of the English participants provide some evidence of changing attitudes, with younger English nationals in particular expressing greater tolerance, if not outright approval, of forms of English spoken in the north of England.

The project discusses the potential social, educational and economic implications of the findings for speakers of Southern English and Northern English speech and speculates upon the effects of linguistic prejudice more widely. In light of the results, the project also examines ideas of Englishness as well as the existence of distinct southern and northern identities.

 

The project results are detailed in the published research monograph:

McKenzie, R.M. and A. McNeill (2023) Implicit and Explicit Language Attitudes: Mapping Linguistic Prejudice and Attitude Change in England. London/New York: Routledge.

 https://www.routledge.com/Implicit-and-Explicit-Language-Attitudes-Mapping-Linguistic-Prejudice-and/McKenzie-McNeill/p/book/9780367703530