Circe was a goddess, but her voice was different from that of other gods. She sounded like a human, and the Olympians viewed her suspiciously because of that. The Greek myth might offer us one of the earliest examples of accent discrimination! 


What is accent discrimination

Linguistic discrimination refers to the unfair or prejudiced treatment of individuals or groups based on their language or way of speaking. In the literature, it is variously known under the names of glottofobia, linguistic profiling, slang ban, accent discrimination, ethnic accent bullying, linguistic racism, linguistic stereotyping, and linguicism. When it occurs on the basis of how a person sounds – the particular accent he or she has – we talk of accentism. 

Everybody has an accent. A person’s accent can tell us many things about their age, sex/gender, geographic provenance, and even educational level or social class. We make assumptions on the basis of these vocal cues and it’s perfectly normal to do so. 

We all have a preference for certain types of accents that seem more beautiful, musical or melodious, or that make us sympathetic. The problem arises when these interpretations become prejudicial and go heavily affect the way that person is treated.

An accent shouldn’t lead us to take a stance on a person’s trustworthiness, competence, professional ability or economic status. These stances are prejudices, and if they end up having an impact on the way a person is thought of and treated, they become a form of discrimination. 

Knowing these prejudices and automatisms can help avoid discrimination.


Why it is insidious

Discrimination on the basis of language is one of the least known and socially salient, and most resistant, forms of discrimination. 

Mechanisms in language discrimination are subtle, as they often operate below the level of consciousness. Moreover, discrimination on the basis of accent is widespread and socially tolerated.

The thing about accent discrimination is that the discrimination isn’t really about language, but rather, people. It reinforces social and economic inequalities. It can limit individuals’ access to education, employment, healthcare, and other essential services, thereby perpetuating cycles of poverty and marginalization.

Accent discrimination can have significant psychological effects on individuals and communities. It can lead to feelings of exclusion, shame, inferiority, insecurity and loss of self-esteem. These negative experiences can have long-lasting impacts on individuals’ mental well-being and overall quality of life.


When and where it happens

Accent discrimination happens everywhere, every day. It is far more widespread than one may think, and it travels across time, space, and sectors. 

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Why is the school environment an important context to study

Accent discrimination is particularly dangerous in school because teachers can judge students from marginalized linguistic backgrounds more negatively as a result of prejudices, and lead pupils to feel less valued and discourage them from putting effort into their studies.

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Addressing language discrimination in education involves implementing inclusive language policies, providing resources for multilingual education, training teachers in inclusive pedagogical practices, and promoting linguistic diversity in curriculum materials. By doing so, we can create equitable educational environments that value and celebrate the linguistic diversity of students.

We know that accent discrimination happens. What we know less about is how it happens: which languages are objects of prejudice, which are those prejudices, and how and if they vary according to different places and ages.

CIRCE wants to explore how accents are perceived and judged by students and teachers in Italy, Germany, Portugal, and Bosnia. 

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