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Accents on Trial: Accent Discrimination in U.K. and U.S. Courts

Wood, Grace (2018) Accents on Trial: Accent Discrimination in U.K. and U.S. Courts. PhD thesis, University of York.

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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. Trials such as the U.S. Zimmerman v. State with witness Rachel Jeantel reveal how damaging accent discrimination can be. In order to research this further, mock trials were put together, collecting “verdicts” from groups of participants in the U.S. who formed mock juries, as well as individual online participants in the U.K. and the U.S. In both countries the national standard accent was compared to a regional accent. This was done by filming a staged cross examination between a prosecutor and a defendant. While the prosecutor’s accent remained standard in both guises, participants were given a video that had the defendant testify in either a standard or regional accent. Unlike previous research, these studies were designed to look like psychological studies into jury decision making so that participants were not primed for the linguistic components. The statistical analysis did not find any significant differences between the two accent conditions. Therefore, while language attitudes affected some of the results, there was no evidence that accent discrimination was present when it came to giving a verdict. Thus the overall findings suggest 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.). Furthermore, the mock juries differed significantly in their verdicts from the individual online participants. This suggests that the use of individual jurors in any type of trial research significantly inhibits ecological validity. Suggestions for further research are offered to continue learning in what ways language is instrumental in legal contexts.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of York > Language and Linguistic Science (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.778905
Depositing User: Ms Grace Wood
Date Deposited: 04 Jun 2019 13:51
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2020 13:08
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/24072

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