Friday, April 04, 2008

Linguistics at the BBC, socio this time

Reader E.G. has passed along a truly baffling link from the BBC, called:
Perceptions 'affected by accent'
Accent could affect how intelligent people are thought to be, a new study suggests.
To many linguists, that headline is roughly as surprising as this one would be:
Sun rises in east,
Sets in west, new study shows
But it actually reports a pretty straightforward study by Lance Workman, an evolutionary psychologist at Bath Spa University. The researchers played Birmingham ('Brummie') and Yorkshire accents to subjects while showing them pictures of female models and showed the pictures with no sound as well. Subjects rated the intelligence of the people pictured. The rank, from most to least intelligent, was:
  • Yorkshire
  • Silence
  • Birmingham
In the U.S., Dennis Preston and others have found pretty clear patterns that match popular stereotypes: Southern accents sound dumb, but pleasant. Northerners sound smart but less pleasant. A mountain of research has pursued these kinds of connections for decades — I read old stuff on the topic when I was a grad student back in the 1870s in Leipzig, I think.

But that aside, the big shock here is that on a quick read, this appears to be a BBC piece on language that is not utterly bat-shit crazy. Of course, they DID run the picture/caption above with the story. (Does any living human being think of Ozzy as particularly intelligent? Gene Simmons he ain't.)

In an interesting twist, they spend a lot of time saying – and quoting Workman saying – nice things about people from Birmingham and their intelligence. In the American media, we don't tend to get those disclaimers about the South.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ADS-L just had a cross-post from the (a?) forensic linguistics list. Starts like this:

"It is interesting that despite some 40 years of language attitudes research and regular academic and media publication of research exploring accent perception, such a story is presented in the media as new 'news'. Why should this be the case?"

So, this might be a step forward, but don't get excited about BBC coverage of linguistics.