The impact of British accents on perceptions of eyewitness statements


  • Lara Frumkin School of Psychology, The Open University



accent, eyewitness, Accent Prestige Theory, favourability


The current study looked at the impact of British regional accents on evaluations of eyewitness testimony in criminal trials.  Ninety participants were randomly presented with one of three video recordings of eyewitness testimony manipulated to be representative of Received Pronunciation (RP), Multicultural London English (MLE) or Birmingham accents.  The impact of the accent was measured through eyewitness (a) accuracy, (b) credibility, (c) deception, (d) prestige, and (e) trial outcome (defendant guilt and sentence).  RP was rated more favourably than MLE on accuracy, credibility and prestige.  Accuracy and prestige were significant with RP rated more highly than a Birmingham accent.  RP appears to be viewed more favourably than the MLE and Birmingham accents although the witness’s accents did not affect ratings of defendant guilt. Taken together, these findings show a preference for eyewitnesses to have RP speech over some regional accents. 


Anderson, A., Downs, S. D., Faucette, K., Griffin, J., King, T., & Woolstenhulme, S. (2007) How accents affect perception of intelligence, physical attractiveness, and trust-worthiness of middle-Eastern-, Latin-American-, British-, and standard-American English-accented speakers. Intuition: The BYU Undergraduate Journal in Psychology 3: 5–11.

Bayard, D., Gallois, C., Pittam, J., & Weatherall, A. (2001) Pax Americana? Accent attitudinal evaluations in New Zealand, Australia and America. Journal of Sociolinguistics 5(1): 22-49.

Bornstein, B. H., Golding, J. M., Neuschatz, J., Kimbrough, C., Reed, K., Magyarics, C., & Luecht, K. (2017) Mock juror sampling issues in jury simulation research: A metanalysis. Law and Human Behavior 41(1): 13-28.

Cantone, J. A., Martinez, L. N., Willis-Esqueda, C., & Miller, T. (2019) Sounding guilty: How accent bias affects juror judgments of culpability. Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice 1-26.

Cheshire, J., Kerswill, P., Fox, S. & Torgersen, E. (2011) Contact, the feature pool and the speech community: The emergence of Multicultural London English. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15(2): 151–196.

Clark, U., & Asprey, E. (2013) West Midlands English: Birmingham and the Black Country. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Clifford v Commonwealth of Kentucky. (1999). 7?S.W.3rd 371 (Ky).

Coupland, N., & Bishop, H. (2007) Idealised values for British accents. Journal of Sociolinguistics 11(1): 74-93.

Dixon, J. A., & Mahoney, B. (2004) The effect of accent evaluation and evidence on a suspect’s perceived guilt and criminality. The Journal of Social Psychology 144(1): 63-73.

Dixon J. A., Mahoney, B., & Cocks, R. (2002) Accents of guilt: Effects of regional accent, race and crime type on attributions of guilt (Research Note). Journal of Language and Social Psychology 21(2): 162-168.

Foon, A.E. (2001) A Social Structural Approach to Speech Evaluation. The Journal of Social Psychology 123(4): 521-530.

Frumkin, L. (2007) Influences of accent and ethnic background on perceptions of eyewitness testimony. Psychology, Crime and Law 13(3): 317-331.

Fuertes, J. N., Gottdiener, W. H., Martin, H., Gilbert, T. C., and Giles, H. (2012) A metanalysis of the effects of speakers' accents on interpersonal evaluations. European Journal of Social Psychology 42: 120–133.

Fuertes, J.N., Potere, J.C., & Ramirez, K.Y. (2002) Effects of speech accents on interpersonal evaluations: Implications for counselling practice and research. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 8(4): 346-356.

Giles, H. (1970) Evaluative reactions to accents. Educational Review 22: 211-227.

Hansen, K., Raki?, T., & Steffens, M. C. (2018) Foreign-Looking Native-Accented People: More Competent When First Seen Rather Than Heard. Social Psychological and Personality Science 9(8): 1001–1009.

Hosoda, M. & Stone-Romero, E. (2010) The effects of foreign accents on employmentrelated decisions. Journal of Managerial Psychology 25: 113-132.

Jones, T., Kalbfeld, J.R., Hancock, R., & Clark, R. (2019) Testifying while black: An experimental study of court reporter accuracy in transcription of African American English. Language 95(2): 1-37.

Kang, O., & Rubin, D. (2014) 11 listener expectations, reverse linguistic stereotyping, and individual background factors in social judgments and oral performance assessment. In J.M. Levis & A. Moyer (eds) Social dynamics in second language accent 239-254. De Gruyter Online.

Kerswill, P. (2014) The objectification of ‘Jafaican’: the discoursal embedding of Multicultural London English in the British media. In J. Androutsopoulos (ed) The Media and Sociolinguistic Change 428-455. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin.

Kerswill, P. & Torgersen, E. (2017) London’s Cockney in the twentieth century: Stability or cycles of contact-driven change? In Hickey, R. (ed) Listening to the Past 85-113. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Kinzler, K.D., Shutts, K., Dejesus, J., & Spelke, E.S. (2009) Accent trumps race in guiding children’s social preferences. Social Cognition 27(4): 623–634.

Kurinec, C.A. & Weaver, C.A. (2019) Dialect on trial; Use of African American Vernacular English influence juror appraisals. Psychology, Crime and Law 29, DOI: 10.1080/1068316X.2019.1597086

Lambert, W. E. (1967) A social psychology of bilingualism. Journal of Social Issues 23: 91–109.

Lambert, W. E., Hodgson, R., Gardner, R. C. & Fillenbaum, S. (1960) Evaluational reactions to spoken languages. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 60: 44–51.

Leach, H., Watson, K., & Gnevsheva, K. (2016) Perceptual dialectology in northern England: Accent recognition, geographical proximity and cultural prominence. Journal of Sociolinguistics 20 (2): 192-21.

Lev-Ari, S., & Keysar, B. (2010) Why don’t we believe non-native speakers? The influence of accent on credibility. Journal of Experimental Psychology 46: 1093-1096.

Lippi-Green, R. (1994) Accent, standard language ideology, and discriminatory pretext in the courts. Language in Society 23: 163-198.

Malarski, K. (2013) Intonation in the perception of Brummie. In E. Waniek-Klimczak & L. Shockey (eds) Teaching and researching English accents in native and non-native speakers 207-217. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer.

Morales, A. C., Scott, M.L., & Yorkston, E.A. (2012) The role of accent standards in message preference and recall. Journal of Advertising 41: 33-46.

Moyer, A. (2013) Foreign accent: The phenomenon of non?native speech. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Mugglestone, L. (2003) Talking proper: The rise of accent as a social symbol (2nd ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Raki?, T., Steffens, M. C., & Mummendey, A. (2011) Blinded by the accent! the minor role of looks in ethnic categorization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 100: 16–29.

Reber, R., & Schwarz, N. (1999) Effects of perceptual fluency on judgments of truth. Consciousness and Cognition 8: 338-342.

Rickford, J. (2002) How linguists approach the study of language and dialect. Retrieved from

Rickford, J.R. & King, S. (2016) Language and linguistics on trial: hearing Rachel Jeantel (and other vernacular speakers) in the courtroom and beyond. Language 92: 948--988.

Seggie, I. (1983) Attribution of guilt as a function of ethnic accent and type of crime. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 4(3): 196-206.

Sentencing Guidelines:

Sobral Fernandez, J. & Prieto Ederra, A. (1994) The persuasive impact of witnesses’ aspect and speech. Revista de Psicologia Social 9: 13-18.

Thorne, S. (2005) Accent pride and prejudice: Are speakers of stigmatized variants really less loyal? Journal of Quantitative Linguistics 12(3): 151-166.

Workman, L. (2015) How outdated stereotypes about British accents reinforce the class ceiling. The Conversation

Zimmerman v State of Florida. (2013). No. 5D13–1233.




How to Cite

Frumkin, L. (2020). The impact of British accents on perceptions of eyewitness statements. Journal of Language and Discrimination, 4(1), 119-138.