Why are certain accents undesirable even in proficient speakers?

This is based on some anecdotal experience but also from a ‘general consensus’ among various people I’ve met.

Having lived in the United States and the Republic of Ireland for some time, I have come across a fair share of accents from natives, first/second generation immigrants in both countries. Some speech patterns are considered ‘exotic’ and ‘sexy’, ‘posh’, others neutral and some very ‘irritating’ or ‘undesirable’.

A lot of the undesirable speech patterns are present in people who might be considered of a lower class (‘ebonics’, ghetto). Poor/ very rudimentary language skills along with a harsh accent is the reason why they are generally considered ‘undesirable’.

However what about cases where someone is middle class, educated and speaks with the fluency of a typical native but their accent is harsh and considered highly irritating. What could cause this? Excluding individual pitch.

Living in Dublin, I can recall a good number of occasions where I’ve met men and women who would have been considered attractive aesthetically (facial/body features) and dressed in standard/‘elegantly’ fashionable clothing…yet when I heard their accent expressing extreme emotion, it was a high turnoff. Even during my secondary days, A lot of students found our relatively attractive piano teacher Kate extremely attractive after she left Dublin to do a course in Toronto for 4 years. The female students remarked how she sounded more ‘refined’ with a softer Irish accent while the male students found her ‘hotter’, despite only a change in how she spoke.

What might the explanation for this be? Seeing as it isn’t specific to the Irish accent but to harsh accents in general.

I believe that in the USA some people equate some accents with a lack of intelligence.

Of course the causality of this is all backwards. People don’t decide that certain accents are undesirable, and then the people who have those accents fall behind.

Rather, people from lower socioeconomic classes have particular speech patterns, and those patterns are deemed undesirable. This sort of thing goes back farther than ancient Rome, where patricians had posh accents and plebians had rustic accents.

There’s something to be said for “light” accents making someone sound more exotic, and hence more attractive to the listener. Provided it isn’t one of those undesirable accents of the lower classes. And of course, provided they are attractive enough in the first place.

I agree. The undesirable accents in Ireland would be sound more like a ‘knacker’ accent. Knackers are the Irish equivalent of bums in the UK or rednecks in the US, however most of the people like my former teacher would obviously not come from backgrounds of poverty or have been raised in ‘rough’ neighbourhoods, yet the accent is strong enough to be a ‘background irritant’ even after encountering them daily.

There is definitely something to that, and I think it’s hard to separate the associations with certain groups that tend to do worse and don’t show up in higher echelons. That said, I also think there is something to the idea that some accents just “sound” better.
I find the standard posh british accent far more appealing than a scottish accent, even though I do not see the latter as associated to some lower tier group. Also, the chav accent, even though authentically british, sounds pretty tacky to me.
Also, expanding this out a bit, some languages just sound objectively more pleasant. I think Tagalog that Filipinos speak sounds awful and guttural compared to japanese… (sorry to any Filipino people, nothing personal)

I would say that the desirability of accents has complex socio-cultural factors. A blonde, hazel eyed, slightly tanned attractive woman sounds better with a soft Irish accent or English accent than a ‘thick’/strong one not because she sounds low class but what the accent signifies.

Someone with a soft accent would have a certain ‘elegance’ in personality. Composed, less overt display of 'irritable emotions (but greater display of nurturing towards partners or close acquaintances; mostly in attractive women), patient, and deeper interactions with friends close to them.

The opposite might go for people with harsh accents. Obviously they’re not ‘bad’ people but one could say that there might be more display of less elegant personality traits. Perhaps someone confirm or deny this with some personal experience.

I am Australian (with a Strine accent) and I find the South African and New Zealand accents horridly offensive.

Don’t ask me why, I can’t account for my offense!

Clearly you can’t spell offence the Australian way either. :wink:

I find the really broad Straylian accent quite grating, along with the thick New Zulland Uccent associated with Auckland.

I definitely think there’s some near-innate connections between some accents and people’s opinions of the speakers, though. Jeff Foxworthy has a good bit about how no-one is going to feel reassured hearing a Deep South USA accent from a brain surgeon, no matter how good the surgeon is.

I find thick Aussie accents sometimes difficult to take seriously. Sorry guys.:frowning: I recall being in a meeting, talking about some grave issue and thinking “dude, you should be on a beach somewhere, getting ready to surf”.

South Africans? No problem.

There are class associations, but also speech mannerisms that suggest inarticulacy or poor communication skills with the manner of speech getting in the way of the content.

Exactly. Linguist John McWhorter discusses this in a recent episode of his for-all-audiences podcast “Lexicon Valley.” The segment is about why examples of early 20th century recorded speech sound odd to us – FDR, Bette Davis… – specifically, why people from all socioeconomic classes (but not quite all regions of the US) dropped their "r"s at the end of syllables (like we still associate with Southerners today).

The question becomes “why did most people change to pronouncing their 'r’s.” Turns out it’s largely because “r”-lessness became associated with “low class,” because most recorded or broadcast speech (on radio or in movies) was made by urban people in urban settings, and this was the tail end of the long period when “rural” meant “normal” (statistically and culturally), while “urban” meant “a little odd, maybe something to be distrusted or feared.”

So, an association developed between an arbitrary speech pattern and and certain stereotypes. Happens in every generation.

Interesting. Do Americans perceive the various British accents as we natives (apparently) do.

The “Queen’s English” is what used to be called received pronunciation - ie - a bit posh.

There are a lot of assumptions about accents that you don’t realize how strong you have. One time I was on a plane going through some horrible turbulence, when the pilot came on the speaker. But instead of the expected calm sterotypical pilot voice we all expect, it was captain Gustavson, with an accent that suggested he should be at da ice hole wit Ole gettin drunk, telling us we would be climbing to tirty five tousand feet. On a primitive level it was just less reassuring in that accent.

A great deal depends upon culture and knowledge. I have a classic Northern Virginia accent - pretty much a dying breed. It is American South with a touch of Eastern Seaboard thrown in, and then this thing we do to a long “O” which I have no way to explain. But if you’ve ever heard a true Virginian say the word “coat” then you’ll recognize it forever.

People from the Eastern Seaboard tend to find it attractive. They recognize the difference between Northern and Southwestern Virginia, and immediately assume excellent schooling and a cosmopolitan up-bringing.

But folks from the Mid-west, Southwest and Western Coast don’t differentiate it from other “Southern” accents. To them I sound little different than an Alabama or Arkansas native; they will assume a correspondence with ignorance, poverty and insularity, thus finding it unattractive. There are also those who hear a Southern accent and assume they are talking to a bigot. They are the worst of all.

Likewise most Americans like the Liverpool accent, while those raised in the UK find it grating.

Is that Tidewater? I accompanied Mrs. Plant (v.2.0) to a herding class in Mississippi, and put up with the talk of dog poop and other things to hear a Virginian woman she was speaking with. A beautiful accent.

Interesting. I actually find south african accents surprisingly charming. I never really encountered them until I watched district 9.

Also, I was on a ventrilo room for audio while playing wow years ago, and some Australians were on and when one of the standard US people started talking they started talking about how we had great speaking accents. That was really strange as no one ever talks about how American accents sound to people from overseas.

I assume people from the UK hear an American talking and assume some beggar is walking near asking for change. How can we not sound guttural compared to some of the UK accents? Bestial in our truncated speech?
Unless again… it’s compared to the chav accent.

People in the UK are probably used to accents. “The sun never sets on the British Empire” [sub]1[/sub] and all that.

[sup]1[/sup]God doesn’t trust an Englishman alone in the dark.

I always laugh at comedian Henry Cho, Korean comedian with a thick Southern accent that you wouldn’t expect.

[quote=“Rick_Kitchen, post:19, topic:778325”]

I always laugh at comedian Henry Cho, Korean comedian with a thick Southern accent that you wouldn’t expect.


He must be faking that, but he does very well. :slight_smile: