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  • Assumptions Based on Accent
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  • Assumptions Based on Accent

    One of many Student Academic Conference projects

    Meghan Feir
    First impressions can be deceiving, and MSUM senior Elizabeth Fink will talk about her research that supports that assertion at the 15th annual Student Academic Conference (SAC) on April 16. The cliché of “judging a book by its cover” is well known, but we usually relate that to judging appearances. However, Fink’s research, “Assumptions Based on Accent,” shows we also base suppositions on tonal inflections, word pronunciation and speed of tongue.
    Fink, an English major with emphases in education and teaching English as a second language (TESL), grew curious about perceptions based on accents after learning about native and non-native English speakers.
    In her research, Fink presented audio examples of four varying accents of native and non-native English speakers to two MSUM classes; one was a general elective, and the other was required for students majoring in TESL. She asked class members to describe their immediate perceptions of the four taped accents in three adjectives. Fink was surprised to find her own assumptions weren’t quite accurate after calculating the results between the two classes.
    “I was surprised at how negative some of the labels were,” Fink said. Students tagged adjectives like lazy, boring and monotone to more than one of the examples heard.
    “It’s interesting the perceptions people have based on other people’s accents,” Fink said. “I wondered if people make assumptions about certain accents even if they’ve had multicultural experiences or if that changed their perceptions at all.”  
    The results of her research could inspire serious self-reflection by future educators. “If teachers who teach non-native speakers of English have any negative perceptions of their own students, how will that affect their teaching?” Fink asked. “I wanted to explore that more.”
    Fink was also curious to see how her peers in education would compare in relation to the students in the general elective class, results she will elaborate on during her SAC presentation.
    One of Fink’s presentation goals is to encourage more thoughtfulness in her audience since many people unintentionally harbor negative connotations of others based on specific accents or dialects.
    “It’s surprising that some of these negative assumptions still exist, especially since we’re such a global society,” Fink said.  
    The final deadline for submitting applications for this year’s Student Academic Conference is Thursday, Feb. 28. Learn more at the Student Academic Conference website.