Foreign accents greatly influence how people view newcomers and experts, new research suggests. Having an accent and being from a visible minority background “impedes” the possibility of being perceived as legitimate, trustworthy or even credible.
This study thus confirms other studies in Quebec on barriers to employment and on “glottophobia”, a form of linguistic discrimination that includes accent. It is already known that the skin color, religion or gender of the experts influence the opinion we have of them. This time, “the starting point is discrimination based on accent,” says Professor Antoine Bilodeau. In particular, he carried out this investigation with his team from Concordia University and will present the conclusions at the Acfas congress this week.
“We know the concept of visible minority well, but much less about audible minorities,” says this specialist in political science and immigrant integration. The current results show that having a foreign accent, whether or not combined with being racialized, “hampers the possibility” of being perceived as a legitimate, trustworthy and even credible expert.
The researchers asked 1,200 people in each province to assess the credibility of an expert based on a photo and an audio recording. The effect of accent is undeniable in all the scenarios submitted to the survey, but it is not the same in Quebec as in Ontario.
Each survey respondent only saw one thumbnail, either a white or black man, and then heard that person speak only once about climate change and the carbon tax. In Quebec, this voice had either a Quebec accent, or an Eastern European or West African (Togo) type accent. In Ontario, it was rather a fairly neutral anglophone accent, then the same foreign accents.
Neither the “origin” of the accent, nor the purpose of the evaluation, was revealed to the respondent, specifies Mr. Bilodeau, “since we wanted people to interpret this accent themselves”. We then asked to judge the credibility of the expert from several angles: the eloquence of his message, his competence and his professionalism. “Is it convincing? Is he trustworthy? “, also exemplifies the professor
Depends on the concept of “we”
In Quebec, the effect of the foreign accent was greater for the non-racialized person. In Ontario, it was more “punitive” for the racialized expert. “This is perhaps the specificity of Quebec: the language is so central that as soon as we see a white person we expect them to have the same accent,” says Mr. Bilodeau.
There is thus a “surprise effect” which contradicts this expectation and negatively affects perception. Conversely, the racialized expert with a Quebec accent is the one who obtains the highest score in terms of credibility.
A visible minority who has or adopts the local accent is somewhat “rewarded,” according to these results. “It’s as if the fact that he has a majority accent [québécoise] came to defuse an anticipation of distance. It suddenly brings the respondent closer to the expert speaking,” the researcher hypothesizes.
“Is it enough to speak French, or do you have to speak it the ‘right way’ to really be part of the group? reflected M. Bilodeau.
The study went precisely further to better understand the reaction of the respondents, according to their own conception of what forms their group to which they belong. There was thus a series of questions on the important criteria for being a “true Quebecer” or a “true Ontarian”: must one be born in the province, have spent the majority of one’s life in the province, be white, be Christian, feeling Quebecois or Ontarian, respecting the laws, etc.
Those with a conception that excludes more people also reacted most strongly to the accent in the white expert in Quebec.
A form that is too socially acceptable
“The accent, we don’t think about it or we talk about it less,” agrees Victor Armony, professor of sociology at UQAM. In a study he conducted at the Observatory on Racial Inequalities in Quebec, however, accent ranks second among the reasons for discrimination cited by respondents.
“I was starting from a sort of enigma,” he describes. Among several populations, there are still significant gaps in income or positions for the same qualifications, even if they are not “direct or open” targets of racism.
He gives the example of Latin Americans: “There are sometimes favorable prejudices towards Latinos. We are found to be warm, we bring food, music, joie de vivre, etc. The other side of the coin: we are not always taken seriously at the intellectual or professional level”, explains the researcher.
A qualified person, with a diploma, “who makes considerable efforts to speak French” and received without prior hostility can still be devalued because of their accent.
“It’s the accent that makes the message inadmissible, less interesting and sometimes left aside,” he summarizes. Arriving from Argentina more than 30 years ago, Mr. Armony experienced it himself. “It’s the mocking, impatient, contemptuous gaze of the other that ends up having an impact on my self-confidence, on self-esteem or on the desire to expose myself in front of others even when I have something to say. So you end up shutting up and staying in your place, ”explains the man.
Linguistic discrimination, especially based on accent, also called “glottophobia” is more insidious. “Socially, glottophobia is not recognized as discrimination. So it can serve as a pretext or screen to hide another form of socially unacceptable discrimination,” describes sociologist Christian Bergeron.
Like Antoine Bilodeau, but in a different field, he also notes a different attitude according to self-perception: “The more a speaker thinks he has the norm, that is to say the right way to express themselves in French, the more they tend to reject other ways of expressing themselves and sometimes even to discriminate against others,” says this professor at the University of Ottawa.
More sneaky or less displayed, it can nevertheless become a real barrier to employment, recalls Mr. Armony. “We will invoke, for example, the idea that we need a person who has “perfect French”, but then we confuse the grammar and the quality of French from the point of view of the accent”, reports. -he.
The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms does not explicitly name accent, but rather language. However, it is forbidden to treat a person differently or to have offensive and repeated behavior towards him because of his accent, indicates the Commission des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse du Québec.
France went further in 2020: the National Assembly passed a law, now blocked in the Senate, which punishes discrimination based on accent with penalties of up to three years in prison and 45,000 euros in fines. ‘fine. “Audible minorities are the great forgotten of the social contract based on equality,” said the instigator of the bill, MP Christophe Euzet, himself from a region of France known for its different sounds. from those of Paris.