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"'Give me your name and I’ll tell you whether you speak with an accent': The Effect of Proper Names Ethnicity on Listener Expectations"

Alexei Prikhodkine, David Correia Saavedra, Marcelo Dos Santos Mamed

CALL: Irish Journal for Culture, Arts, Literature and Language, 1 (1), 2016

The mastery of a national language tends to be regarded as a key element in foreigners’ integration in Switzerland and as a gateway to equal opportunity. In this article, the limitations of this claim are explored through a study measuring the effect of proper names’ ethnicity on speech perception. A hundred and fifty Swiss respondents had to rate six speakers who were presented as candidates for a job as a communication manager in a Swiss bank. These six speakers spent most of their lives in French-speaking Switzerland and spoke the Standard variety. Our findings indicate that a proper name with an ethnic minority component can result in their bearers being judged as having more foreign accent and as being less suitable for the job. Results are discussed in terms of a discrepancy between cultural nationality and legal citizenship in modern nation-states. This article also shows that studying the effect of proper names, and more generally fine-grained non-verbal cues, on speech perception is a promising research domain in the sociolinguistics of migration, as it provides us with a multi-dimensional appreciation of ethnic identities.

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