Guilty by accent?
Keywords:accent, legal system, jury decision making, matched-guise, Yorkshire English
Research into urban housing, employment, education and public perception has found evidence of accent discrimination. However, the role of language and discrimination has been under-researched in the legal realm. Cases such as US Hyppolite v. State (2002) reveal how damaging accent discrimination can be. In order to research this further, mock trials were put together and run in the United Kingdom, collecting ‘verdicts’ from individual online participants. Using a matched-guise method, the defendant testified in Standard Southern British English and Yorkshire English. Unlike previous research conducted, this was designed to look like a psychological study into jury decision-making so that participants were not primed for the linguistic components. While language attitudes were present in the results, there was no evidence of accent discrimination when it came to giving a verdict or even levels of recommended punishment, with no significant differences between accent conditions. The conclusion suggests that accent may not always be discriminated against directly; rather, it may be the vehicle used to discriminate against protected traits (e.g. ethnicity, gender, religion, etc.).
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