What Your Accent Says About You at Work

New York City If you sound like you're from New York, chances are about half your co-workers think you're rude. If you have a Southern accent, they probably think you're nice, and if you have an English accent, then it's likely that you sound intelligent and sophisticated, according to the results of a recent Harris Poll.

When asked to think about their reaction to hearing various accents, roughly half of adults say they think speakers with a Southern accent seem nice, two in five say the same for speakers with a Midwest accent. About one in five, say those with either a British accent or New England accent are nice. Not surprisingly the study discovered that speakers with New York City accents were the least likely to be perceived as being nice, with less than 7 percent of respondents thinking so.

Roughly half of adults seen to think that those with a British accent are sophisticated -- far more than for any other accent (between 20 percent for New England accents, down to 6 percent for Southern accents). And, while a little more than half of adults think that speakers with New York City accents are rude, very few adults say the same for any other accent listed (between 14 and 4 percent).

That may be why people often deny having any accent, although most adults prefer their own way of speaking. When asked about various attributes, Americans living in the East, Midwest and South all gave more flattering responses about the accents from their home areas than did adults from elsewhere.

So can my accent help or hurt my job prospects?

The poll found that there's a tendency among US adults to believe that applicants from their home region would beat out those applicants representing other regions, in a competitive job market. When asked if four equally qualified applicants for a certain job were only differentiated by their accent, roughly two in five adults say that the applicant with the Midwestern accent would get the job. This belief was most prevalent among Midwesterners. where 63 percent said this compared to between 41 and 21 percent of adults from the other regions who do.

With regard to other regions, about a quarter of Easterners say the job would go to the person with the New England accent, while few from other regions (between 17 and 9 percent) agree. Nearly one in five Easterners agree that the job would go to the New Yorker (compared to between 14 and 7 percent of respondents from non-Eastern regions). About one in five Southerners say the position would be filled by the applicant from the South, compared to very few adults from other regions who agree (between 7 and 3 percent). Easterners are also more likely than those from other regions, to say the job would go to a person with the British accent (27 percent).

We like our own accents best

Despite speakers sometimes denying their regional accent, adults award accents from their own area more positive descriptions and fewer negative ones, than adults from other areas. For example:

  • Southerners think that speakers with Southern accents are nice (59 percent) and honest (45 percent) more often than those from the West (42 and 28 percent), East (44 and 29 percent) and Midwest (45 and 31 percent) do.
  • While just over one in ten adults think that speakers with a New York City accent are intelligent (12 percent), a higher percentage, 18 percent of those in the East say this, compared to fewer in the Midwest (12 percent), West (11 percent) and South (10 percent) who say the same.
  • Similarly, one in six Easterners say those with a New York City accent seem honest (16 percent), compared to very few in other regions who agree (between 4 and 6 percent).
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, roughly half of the population polled from all US regions found the New York City accent rude.

This pattern continues as Midwesterners say that speakers with a Midwestern accent seem well-educated, intelligent, nice and honest more frequently than adults from other regions do. In fact, over half of Midwesterners say someone with a Midwestern accent seem nice compared to 42 percent of Westerners, 36 percent of Easterners and just 31 percent of Southerners who say this.

This knowledge might give you a leg up in the workplace, especially if you do a lot of public speaking. Although TV news and other media personalities often work to overcome distinctive regional accents, it doesn't seem that local inflections are bothersome, at least not to an audience from that area. However, it might be interesting if speakers are skilled enough to play up their accent, or not, depending on their situation -– it appears there may be circumstances where a different style of pronunciation could work well to one's advantage.

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