What does your Accent Say about You?

What does your accent say about you? The above map comes from a website by Rick Aschmann which outlines the geographical locations and characteristics of different North American English dialects (linked above). Rick’s website also includes audio samples of each dialect, and several charts and guides describing how sounds differ between each dialect.

This diversity is important because our communication analytics data shows that 38% of other’s impressions of you is driven by your voice, and especially in the workplace, accents often come with stereotypes. A survey from Harris Interactive found that “half of adults think those with a British accent are sophisticated (47%)… and, while half of adults think that speakers with New York City accents are rude (51%), very few adults say the same for any other accent listed (between 14% and 4%).” People with Southern accents are considered to be nice, although possibly uneducated while people with a New England accent are more likely to be considered intelligent. However, the study goes on to explain that these stereotypes are relative to our own accents. One in six Easterners say those with a New York City accent are honest (16%), compared to very few in other regions who agree (between 4% and 6%). Adults from different regions were asked to consider four equally qualified applicants who were distinguishable by accent alone. Across the board, people were more likely to choose the applicant whose accent was similar to their own.

Research from the University of Chicago, quoted in Scientific American, suggests that people tend to distrust messages which are harder to process or understand. When someone speaks with a heavy accent that is different than our own, it reduces cognitive fluency, or the ease with which the brain processes stimuli. Other studies have shown that we tend to prefer messages that are easier to understand. Companies with names that are easier to pronounce sell shares at higher rates. Simple changes to a message such as using a clear font or causing words to rhyme (without changing the content) can affect how people judge a message.

It is important to be aware of how your audience will perceive you. Whether fair or not, assumptions about different accents do exist. You need to make your message as clear and easy to process as possible in order to gain audience trust.