Judging the Immigrant : Accents and Attitudes
Abstract: Spoken language as a means of communication contains huge amounts of information apart from the linguistic message that is conveyed. It is often the first channel of interaction between people and based on the speaker’s manner of talk, we create a mental image of the speaker as a person, of the speaker’s background, origin and personal qualities. Through five case studies, this dissertation investigates how immigrants to Sweden are judged based on their foreign accents (Cases 1—3) and how the use of an interpreter in court can affect the legal process and the judging of the immigrant (Cases 4—5). Case 1 investigated Swedish students’ attitudes towards immigration and immigrants through a survey-based study and revealed that Swedish students hold predominantly positive attitudes towards immigrations and immigrants. Case 2, using accent imitation, asked if Swedish speakers have a cognitive prototype for British English accented Swedish and found that this was the case. This demonstrated that Swedes have models of accented Swedish accents. Case 3 asked Swedish students to rate their impressions of speakers of nine foreign accented Swedish voices on 18 six-point semantic differential scales. They also rated their impressions of each voice for five social factors. The results suggest that the listeners evaluated the voices based on perceived social desirability, or perceived cultural distance between the listener and the voice’s country of origin. Juxtaposing these findings with those of Case 1 suggests that even among a group who are positive to immigrants and immigration some groups of immigrants are more welcome than others. Case 4 examined discourse disfluencies in a bilingual court hearing and a Swedish-Polish bilingual court hearing in detail. The case showed that most of the dialogue-related difficulties have other sources than the interpreter, even if the interpreter at first glance often appeared to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Case 5 examined the interpreter’s role in courtroom dialogue situations through interviews with a court interpreter and a lay judge. The study found that the picture of the interpreter’s role differs between the various actors in the court setting. This, in combination with a lack of knowledge about cultural differences in dialogue strategies, creates complications, can have an impact on the perception of the witness and, ultimately, affect the legal rights of the accused. Furthermore, as the interpreter most frequently speaks foreign accented Swedish, the perception and evaluation of their foreign accented Swedish can further place some immigrant groups at a double legal disadvantage when being judged.
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