Have you ever had difficulty understanding someone because of their accent? As the above clips demonstrates, even the wonderful Stephen Fry has run into this problem. And it makes sense. If a person speaks in a way that you’re not used to hearing, it can be hard to comprehend at first. But does the way that someone sounds affect your perception of that person?
Last week, CBC Radio One’s The Current aired a fascinating segment on discrimination based on accents, also known as “accentism.” The segment referred to a recent study from Manchester University that found a person’s accent can affect how they are viewed by others. Experts mentioned how some people go to great lengths to hide their accents in order to fit in.
The discussion on The Current reminded me of an episode of the British panel show QI, hosted by Stephen Fry.
The talk about accents starts around the 1:35 mark, when Fry asks the panel what an average World War II fighter pilot would sound like. Because of the portrayal by actors in films, Fry explains, it’s commonly thought that most of these pilots were posh, but this wasn’t actually the case. At 4:15 in the clip, the panel discusses how modern-day pilots may alter the way they speak to mimic an accent that is perceived as more reassuring to passengers.
The more familiar we are with different ways of speaking, the better we will be able to understand other accents. Exposure is key. Living in a multicultural environment can be helpful, as can listening to and watching programs from other cultures. But, in the meantime, if you find yourself in a situation where someone doesn’t understand what you’re saying, you might want to try singing to them instead.