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date: 28 May 2017

Language Attitudes

Summary and Keywords

Language attitudes are evaluative reactions to different language varieties. They reflect, at least in part, two sequential cognitive processes: social categorization and stereotyping. First, listeners use linguistic cues (e.g., accent) to infer speakers’ social group membership(s). Second, based on that categorization, they attribute to speakers stereotypic traits associated with those inferred group membership(s). Language attitudes are organized along two evaluative dimensions: status (e.g., intelligent, educated) and solidarity (e.g., friendly, pleasant). Past research has primarily focused on documenting attitudes toward standard and nonstandard language varieties. Standard varieties are those that adhere to codified norms defining correct usage in terms of grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary, whereas nonstandard varieties are those that depart from such norms in some manner (e.g., pronunciation). Standard and nonstandard varieties elicit different evaluative reactions along the status and solidarity dimensions. Status attributions are based primarily on perceptions of socioeconomic status. Because standard varieties tend to be associated with dominant socioeconomic groups within a given society, standard speakers are typically attributed more status than nonstandard speakers. Solidarity attributions tend to be based on in-group loyalty. Language is an important symbol of social identity, and people tend to attribute more solidarity to members of their own linguistic community, especially when that community is characterized by high or increasing vitality (i.e., status, demographics, institutional support). As a result, nonstandard language varieties can sometimes possess covert prestige in the speech community in which they are the speech norms. Language attitudes are socialized early in life. At a very young age, children tend to prefer their own language variety. However, most (if not all) children gradually acquire the attitudes of the dominant group, showing a clear status preference for standard over nonstandard varieties around the first years of formal education and sometimes much earlier. Language attitudes can be socialized through various agents, including educators, peers, family, and the media. Because language attitudes are learned, they are inherently prone to change. Language attitudes may change in response to shifts in intergroup relations and government language policies, as well as more dynamically as a function of the social comparative context in which they are evoked. Once evoked, language attitudes can have myriad behavioral consequences, with negative attitudes typically promoting prejudice, discrimination, and problematic social interactions.

Keywords: language attitudes, accent, dialect, language, social categorization, stereotypes, standard language variety, nonstandard language variety, vitality, intergroup communication

Defining Language Attitudes

Variation in language use—such as the use of different accents, dialects, and languages—is consequential. Worldwide and cross-culturally, people automatically and often unconsciously make various judgements about others—such as their supposed intelligence and friendliness and, in some cases, even their guilt and criminality—simply based on how they speak. The study of language attitudes seeks to document these judgements, explain the cognitive and affective processes that underlie them, and understand their communicative and other social consequences.

Language attitudes can be defined as evaluative reactions to different language varieties. A language variety is a loosely bundled “set of linguistic items [e.g., lexical items, sounds, constructions] with similar social distribution” (Hudson, 1996, p. 22). It is a neutral term that can be used to refer to any form of language, such as a particular accent (i.e., language variety marked by a specific pronunciation), dialect (i.e., language variety marked by a specific, grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation), language, or any other linguistic form one wishes to consider as a specific entity for some purpose (e.g., a Latinate versus Germanic lexicon; see Levin, Giles, & Garrett, 1994). As such, all of the following are varieties of language: English, American English, African-American Vernacular English, and Spanish-accented English.

In line with the tripartite view of attitudes, language attitudes have cognitive, affective, and behavioral components. The cognitive component reflects people’s beliefs about different varieties. For example, Giles (1970) found that British listeners judged British Received Pronunciation (RP) as having more prestige than various regional accents (e.g., Cockney, Birmingham). The affective component reflects people’s feelings toward different varieties. For instance, Cargile and Giles (1997) found that American listeners reported feeling more positive affect (i.e., pleasure) when listening to an American-accented than a Japanese-accented speaker. Finally, the behavioral component reflects people’s behavioral predispositions (e.g., behavioral intentions) in response to different varieties. In this vein, Creber and Giles (1983) found that, in a school setting, British children expressed more willingness to have a RP-accented speaker join their social club than a Welsh-accented speaker. A person’s attitude toward a given language variety may consist of any one or more of these components, each of which may vary in its salience at any given moment. Past research has primarily focused on the cognitive component of language attitudes, and this bias is reflected here.

Historical Backdrop and Methodology

The social scientific study of language attitudes has its roots primarily in the mid-1900s (for an overview, see also Dragojevic, 2016). Pear (1931), in one of the earliest studies in this area, asked BBC audiences to provide personality profiles of various voices heard on the radio in order to examine whether one’s voice was a mirror to one’s actual persona. This and other studies that followed (e.g., Allport & Cantril, 1934; Taylor, 1934) showed that people’s responses were generally (though not always) inaccurate, as measured by objective external criteria. However, there was remarkable consistency in people’s errors (e.g., regarding inferences about speakers’ vocation, extraversion, and other traits), suggesting that they were basing their judgements on vocal stereotypes. Indeed, since the 1960s, hundreds of studies worldwide and cross-culturally have shown that people can and do express definite and consistent stereotypical judgements about different language varieties.

Language attitudes have been studied across a wide range of disciplines, including communication, social psychology, sociolinguistics, and linguistic anthropology, among others. A number of methodologies have been adopted over the years, including the direct elicitation of language attitudes via ethnolinguistic group labels (e.g., Ball, 1983; Coupland & Bishop, 2007), content analysis (Kramarae, 1982; Schmied, 1991), and ethnography (e.g., Shuck, 2004, 2006) (for an overview, see Cargile, Giles, Ryan, & Bradac, 1994). Notwithstanding this diversity, most research has been conducted within the so-called speaker evaluation paradigm, pioneered by Lambert and his associates (Lambert, 1967; Lambert, Hodgson, Gardner, & Fillenbaum, 1960). Studies using this approach ask respondents to listen to a number of audio-recorded voices—representing different language varieties—and rate each on various traits (for procedures to assess implicit versus explicit attitudes, see Pantos & Perkins, 2012). Typically, the voices are produced using the matched-guise technique (MGT) (Lambert et al., 1960), in which the same bidialectical or bilingual speaker records the same passage of text in different language varieties, or guises. By using the same speaker to render the different guises, the MGT has the benefit of controlling for other extraneous vocal characteristics that may naturally vary between speakers and influence listeners’ responses, such as speech rate and pitch. Consequently, researchers using this technique are able to attribute response differences primarily to the guises being contrasted. When this is not feasible—that is, bilingual or bidialectical speakers do not exist or are unable to authentically produce the different guises—the verbal guise technique (VGT) may be used, in which different speakers—who are matched on various demographic and vocal characteristics—produce the different guises (e.g., Paltridge & Giles, 1984; Stewart, Ryan, & Giles, 1985; for procedures to assess attitudes toward different languages, rather than speakers, see Schoel et al., 2013).

In the seminal study using the MGT, Lambert and colleagues (1960) examined English Canadians’ (ECs) and French Canadians’ (FCs) attitudes toward English and French in Montreal. Four English-French bilingual speakers each recorded a passage of text in both an English- and French-language guise. Participants listened to the eight recordings and rated each guise on various traits (e.g., intelligent, kind). ECs evaluated the English guises more favorably than the French guises on 7 out of 14 traits. FCs also preferred the English guises and rated them even more favorably than EC respondents, upgrading them on 10 out of 14 traits. This and subsequent studies by Lambert (e.g., Lambert, 1967; Lambert, Anisfeld, & Yeni-Komshian, 1965; Lambert, Frankel, & Tucker, 1966) provided an impetus for hundreds of studies worldwide that continue to this day (e.g., Brown, Giles, & Thakerar, 1985; Callan & Gallois, 1982; Cavallaro & Ng, 2009; Cavallaro, Ng, & Seilhamer, 2014; Elwell, Brown, & Rutter, 1984; Giles, 1970, 1971, 1972; Giles, Henwood, Coupland, Harriman, & Coupland, 1992).

Basic Processes: Social Categorization and Stereotyping

Two hypotheses have been proposed to explain why different language varieties elicit different evaluations (see Edwards, 1999; Giles & Niedzielski, 1998). The first, termed the inherent value hypothesis, posits that language attitudes reflect intrinsic differences between language varieties, such as their linguistic or aesthetic superiority. By this account, the reason variety “A” is evaluated more favorably than variety “B” is because variety “A” inherently sounds better or is more correct or logical than variety “B.” The second, termed the social connotations hypothesis, posits that language attitudes reflect social perceptions about the speakers of a given variety, rather than any inherent differences between varieties. By this account, the reason variety “A” is evaluated more favorably than variety “B” is because speakers of variety “A” are associated with more positive social meanings (e.g., stereotypes) than speakers of variety “B.”

Existing research primarily supports the second explanation (for a discussion, see Dragojevic, Giles, & Watson, 2013). Linguists have repeatedly—and convincingly—demonstrated that no language variety is inherently superior to another and that all varieties are rule-governed and equally capable of performing their speakers’ required communicative functions (e.g., Labov, 2006). Indeed, if some varieties were inherently superior to others, then everyone would prefer those varieties. However, this is not the case. For example, in a series of studies, Giles and colleagues (e.g., Giles, Bourhis, Trudgill, & Lewis, 1974; for a discussion, see Giles & Niedzielski, 1998) found that listeners did not differentiate between unfamiliar foreign varieties in terms of aesthetics, even though within their own speech communities the varieties were perceived to differ significantly on those qualities. This and other research (e.g., McKenzie, 2008) provides compelling evidence that language attitudes are socially mediated.

Following Lambert’s seminal work on the subject (Lambert, Hodgson, Gardner, & Fillenbaum, 1960), numerous theoretical models have been advanced in an attempt to explain the social meanings associated with different language varieties (for a review, see Giles & Marlow, 2011). Taken together, these models identify various factors that may play a role in the language attitudes process, including language standardization and vitality, uncertainty, context, relational history, message content, conversational goals, and listeners’ moods and processing dynamics, among others. Notwithstanding this diversity, the basic premise underlying most of these models is that language attitudes are, at least in part, a product of two sequential cognitive processes: social categorization and stereotyping (Dragojevic, 2016; Ryan, 1983). First, listeners use language cues (e.g., accent) to infer which social groups speakers belong to. Second, they attribute to speakers stereotypic traits associated with those inferred group memberships.

Social Categorization

Language is a socially diagnostic marker of speakers’ social group membership(s). Language, particularly in its spoken form, is inherently variable on all levels, including pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary: Different people pronounce words differently, construct sentences differently, and use different vocabulary. Although some of this variation is idiosyncratic, reflecting individual-level differences in language use, a significant portion of it is systematic, reflecting group-level differences (e.g., regional, ethnic, social) in language use (Dragojevic et al., 2013). Due to these structured patterns of language use, language varieties can become indexical of (or a pointer to) speakers’ social identities and be a potent cue to social categorization. Language-based categorization is a fast and automatic process that often occurs outside conscious awareness (Kinzler, Shutts, & Correll, 2010). Indeed, in some cases, even the pronunciation of a single word may be sufficient to identify someone as a member of a particular social group (Purnell, Isdardi, & Baugh, 1999). Consequently, social interactions involving people who speak different language varieties are often intergroup in nature (i.e., defined by speakers’ social identities, rather than their personal identities) (Dragojevic & Giles, 2014a).

People are well aware of the indexical associations between language and social identity and attend to linguistic variation from an early age. From birth, newborn infants can differentiate between speech in their maternal language and a foreign language (Kinzler, Dupoux, & Spelke, 2007) and may even be able to differentiate between some foreign languages (Nazzi, Bertoncini, & Mehler, 1998). Between the ages of 4 and 5, children are able to reliably distinguish between their own accent and a foreign accent (Girard, Floccia, & Goslin, 2008; Kinzler, Corriveau, & Harris, 2011; Kinzler, Shutts, DeJesus, & Spelke, 2009) and in some cases this ability may develop as early as 5–6 months (see Kinzler et al., 2007). Soon after, between the ages of 5 and 7, children are able to differentiate between different varieties of their own language (e.g., regional accents) (Floccia, Butler, Girard, & Goslin, 2009) and precursors to this may already be present by age 3 (Rosenthal, 1974) and sometimes as early as 5 months (see Butler, Floccia, Goslin, & Panneton, 2011).

Not only do people attend to linguistic variation from an early age, but they also appear to privilege language over other socially diagnostic cues to social categorization, such as race. For example, infants are more likely to accept toys from native- over foreign-language speakers (Kinzler et al., 2007), yet are equally likely to accept toys from own- and other-race individuals (Kinzler & Spelke, 2011). By age 5, children show a social preference for both native-accented and own-race individuals when each category is tested in isolation. However, when accent and race are tested simultaneously, children show a clear preference for native- over foreign-accented individuals regardless of race (Kinzler, Shutts, DeJesus, & Spelke, 2009). This tendency to privilege accent over race persists into adulthood, during which time accent frequently emerges as a more potent cue to social categorization (Rakić, Steffens, & Mummendey, 2011a).

People’s tendency to attend to linguistic variation from an early age and privilege it over other socially diagnostic cues to social categorization may have an evolutionary basis (for a discussion, see Kinzler et al., 2010). Evolutionary psychologists have argued that people are predisposed to grant special attention to those social cues that are valid and reliable predictors of coalitional membership in society, because of the survival value of effectively tracking coalitions and alliances (Cosmides, Tooby, & Kurzban, 2003). Language is one such reliable cue. In humans’ distant past, neighboring groups were more likely to sound different, in terms of language and accent, than to look different, in terms of physiognomy or skin color (Cosmides et al., 2003). As a result, language, and especially accent, may have been a better predictor of group membership than race throughout most of human history (Kinzler et al., 2010).

Language-based categorization is an inherently variable process and the same language cue need not always engender the same categorization. One reason for this is because listeners can categorize speakers at varying levels of specificity and with varying degrees of accuracy (Ryan, 1983). Linguistic cues often index multiple identities, at varying levels of abstraction. For example, an American Southern English (ASE) accented speaker can be categorized in terms of a local identity (i.e., the specific town she comes from), a regional identity (i.e., Southerner), or a national identity (e.g., American). At all levels of abstraction, listeners can and do make errors (e.g., Bayard, Weatherall, Gallois, & Pittam, 2001; Clopper & Pisoni, 2004; Williams, Garrett, & Coupland, 1999), especially when foreign accents are involved. For instance, Lindemann (2003) found that American listeners frequently miscategorized Korean-accented English speakers as Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Latino—indeed, only 8% of participants correctly categorized the speakers as Korean. Variation in categorization accuracy and specificity is consequential because different social groups tend to be associated with different stereotypes. As a result, different categorizations are likely to engender different evaluative reactions. In this vein, McKenzie (2008) found that Japanese listeners evaluated a SAE speaker more favorably when they categorized her correctly (i.e., as “American”) than when they miscategorized her. Similarly, Yook and Lindemann (2013) found that Korean listeners evaluated an African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) speaker less favorably when they were explicitly informed about her ethnicity (i.e., African American) than when they were not informed.

A number of factors can influence the accuracy and specificity with which listeners categorize a particular speaker. One such factor is listeners’ familiarity with the target variety—listeners who are more familiar with a given variety are likely to be more accurate (and possibly more specific) in their categorization of speakers who use that variety, compared to listeners who are less familiar (Dragojevic, 2016; Ryan, 1983). Familiarity, in turn, can be influenced by a range of interrelated factors, including listeners’ age (Floccia et al., 2009; Girard et al., 2008), regional background and mobility (Clopper & Pisoni, 2004), and proficiency in the target language (Giles et al., 1974; McKenzie, 2008, 2015). Language proficiency is likely to be an especially important determinant of categorization accuracy in multilingual settings, where different ethnolinguistic groups are likely to vary in their proficiency in the target language. All else equal, listeners who are more proficient in the target language are likely to be more familiar with and better able to distinguish between varieties of that language, resulting in higher categorization accuracy (and likely specificity) rates, relative to those who are less proficient. In this vein, Dragojevic, Berglund, and Blauvelt (in press) found that listeners from three different ethnolinguistic groups residing in the republic of Georgia varied widely in their categorization accuracy of two regional varieties of the Georgian language. Ethnic Georgians, who were most proficient in the language, were more accurate in their categorization of both varieties than Armenians and Azerbaijanis, both of whom were less proficient in the language. Moreover, this intergroup variation in categorization accuracy was consequential because it resulted in intergroup variation in language attitudes. That is, the three groups evaluated the two varieties differently, in part, because they categorized them differently.

The context in which evaluations occur can also influence how speakers are categorized and, thus, evaluated. Social categorization is a highly dynamic, context-dependent process. The relative salience of different social categories depends on the contrasts that are perceptually most obvious (i.e., accessibility) and meaningful (i.e., fit) in a given social context (see self-categorization theory: Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987). As the context changes, so does the nature and distribution of social stimuli and, thus, the relative salience of different social categories. In line with this reasoning, Dragojevic and Giles (2014b) found that Californian listeners reported a stronger sense of connection with ASE speakers and rated them more favorably on various traits when they heard the speakers alongside a Punjabi-accented than a Californian-accented speaker, presumably because the first situation made a national identity salient in which ASE speakers constituted the in-group (i.e., Americans), whereas the second made a regional identity salient in which ASE speakers constituted the out-group (i.e., Southerners) (see also Abrams & Hogg, 1987).

Stereotyping

Once a speaker is categorized, they are stereotyped—that is, they are attributed the stereotypic characteristics associated with their inferred group membership(s). Much like other social stereotypes (see Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002), language-based stereotypes are organized along two primary evaluative dimensions (Giles & Marlow, 2011). The first, termed status (or competence), encompasses traits such as a speaker’s intelligence, education, and success. The second, termed solidarity (or warmth), encompasses traits such as a speakers’ friendliness, pleasantness, and honesty. Different language varieties are associated with different stereotypes along these dimensions.

Past research has primarily focused on documenting the stereotypes associated with standard and nonstandard language varieties. Standard varieties are those that adhere to codified norms defining correct spoken and written usage in terms of grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary (Milroy & Milroy, 1999). Examples of standard varieties include Standard American English (SAE) in the United States, British RP in the United Kingdom, and Parisian French in France. Nonstandard varieties are those that depart from codified norms in some manner (e.g., pronunciation). Examples of nonstandard varieties include most regional (e.g., ASE) and ethnic (e.g., AAVE) dialects in a given society, as well as most foreign accents (e.g., Arabic accent in the United States). A standard variety, then, is simply one of many varieties spoken in a given society; however, it tends to be the only one that is officially recognized and legitimated by government and social institutions, reflecting the idealized forms of speech present in dictionaries and grammar books (Milroy & Milroy, 1999; St. Clair, 1982). Operating within the status and solidarity dimensions previously described, past research has shown that standard and nonstandard varieties elicit different evaluations.

Ratings on the status dimension are based primarily on perceived socioeconomic status (Dragojevic, 2016; Woolard, 1985). Standard varieties tend to be associated with dominant socioeconomic groups within a given society, whereas nonstandard varieties tend to be associated with subordinate socioeconomic groups (Giles & Marlow, 2011). As a result, speakers of standard varieties are typically rated higher on the status dimension than speakers of nonstandard varieties (Fuertes, Gottdiener, Martin, Gilbert, & Giles, 2012). This is especially true in status-stressing contexts, such as the workplace or school, where strong social norms typically operate to prescribe the use of standard varieties (see Giles & Ryan, 1982). Additionally, the more a person’s speech departs from the standard (i.e., the stronger the speaker’s nonstandard accent is), the less status they tend to be attributed (e.g., Giles, 1972). However, not all nonstandard forms are equally stigmatized. Rather, an evaluative hierarchy typically emerges for different nonstandard varieties (e.g., El-Dash & Tucker, 1975).

The tendency to ascribe more status to standard than nonstandard varieties has been demonstrated cross-culturally and worldwide and tends to be uniform across different linguistic and social strata in a given society. Indeed, nonstandard speakers themselves often consensually accept the low status ratings others assign to them (e.g., Dragojevic, Berglund, & Blauvelt, 2015) and, in some cases, may even exaggerate them, reflecting what has been termed the “minority group reaction” (Lambert, 1967; Lambert, Hodgson, Gardner, & Fillenbaum, 1960) and “linguistic insecurity” (Labov, 2006). The association between standard varieties and high status is further reinforced by widespread societal acceptance of the standard language ideology, or the belief that the standard variety is inherently the “best” or “most correct” form of language (Milroy & Milroy, 1999). However, and as noted earlier, notions of inherent linguistic superiority are purely ideological in nature and not based on linguistic fact. Stated differently, standard varieties possess no inherent value or “prestige” but rather acquire it due to the status of those who use them (Giles & Niedzielski, 1998).

Ratings on the solidarity dimension, on the other hand, tend to reflect in-group loyalty (Dragojevic, 2016; Ryan, 1983). People are motivated to create and maintain a positive social identity (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Language is an important symbol of social identity, particularly for minority groups, and use of the in-group variety can enhance feelings of solidarity within one’s own speech community (Giles, Taylor, & Bourhis, 1977). Indeed, failure to use the in-group variety in the speech community in which it is the speech norm can lead to ridicule and social marginalization (e.g., Hogg, D’Agata, & Abrams, 1989). For example, a Mexican American who speaks English rather than Spanish may be called a vendido, or sell-out, while a French Canadian who attempts to speak English rather than French may similarly be labeled a vendu (see Giles & Marlow, 2011). As a result, people tend to attribute more solidarity to members of their own linguistic community (i.e., in-group members) than members of other linguistic communities (i.e., out-group members), in part as a way to create and maintain a positive self-concept. Such in-group favoritism (Tajfel & Turner, 1986) is especially likely to occur when people identify strongly with their linguistic in-group (Yzerbyt, Provost, & Corneille, 2005) and when that in-group is characterized by high or increasing ethnolinguistic vitality (Ryan, Giles, & Sebastian, 1982). Giles, Bourhis, and Taylor (1977, p. 308) defined vitality as “that which makes a group likely to behave as a distinctive and active collective entity in intergroup situations.” A group’s vitality is determined by its (a) status (e.g., economic, social, political power), (b) demographics (e.g., number and distribution), and (c) institutional support (e.g., visibility in government and media) (see Giles & Johnson, 1987). Language varieties with high or increasing vitality are more likely to be upgraded on the solidarity dimension by in-group members than varieties with low or decreasing vitality (see Dragojevic, Giles, & Watson, 2013). For instance, although standard German (i.e., Hochdeutsch) is an official language in Switzerland, Swiss German—the nonstandard variety—maintains a high degree of vitality among the local population and is spoken in a wider range of settings than the standard (see Rakić & Steffens, 2013). As a result, Swiss German speakers tend to be rated more favorably on solidarity traits than standard German speakers in Switzerland. The opposite pattern tends to emerge for varieties with low or decreasing vitality. In this vein, Sachdev and Bhatia (2013) describe how some linguistic minorities in India take pride in confessing a lack of proficiency in their native language to members of their own linguistic community. Although vitality can be measured objectively, people’s perceptions of their own and other groups’ vitality tend to be better predictors of language attitudes (Bourhis, Giles, & Rosenthal, 1981; Bourhis & Sachdev, 1984). In sum then, although consistently downgraded status traits, nonstandard varieties can possess covert prestige, with users of those forms sometimes—albeit far from always—upgraded on solidarity traits by members of their own linguistic community (Luhman, 1990), particularly in solidarity-stressing contexts such as the home and family (see Giles & Ryan, 1982). Indeed, the covert prestige that nonstandard varieties sometimes possess is one important reason why those varieties continue to survive (Ryan, 1979).

Further expanding this framework, Ryan, Hewstone, and Giles (1984) pointed out that different evaluative profiles, or stereotypes, on the status and solidarity dimension by subordinate and dominant groups may reflect different social identity maintenance strategies (see Tajfel & Turner, 1986). A pattern in which subordinate and dominant groups convey a mutual preference for the dominant group’s style on status and solidarity is likely to emerge when members of a subordinate group engage in social mobility—for example, try to linguistically assimilate to the dominant group (Giles & Johnson, 1987). Subordinate group members are likely to pursue this strategy when they have low commitment to their in-group, perceive it possible to attain the dominant group’s style (permeable boundaries), and view their group’s position on the status hierarchy as legitimate and stable (Reid & Anderson, 2010). The subordinate group’s style is likely to maintain low vitality under such conditions. Indeed, pervasive assimilation may lead to further decreases in vitality and even language death (Ryan et al., 1984).

If, however, subordinate group members are unwilling (high commitment) or unable (impermeable boundaries) to adopt the dominant group’s style, they may engage in social creativity strategies in an attempt to attain positive distinctiveness from the dominant group (Reid & Anderson, 2010). This may result in an evaluative pattern wherein subordinate and dominant groups convey a mutual preference for the dominant group’s style on the status dimension and the subordinate group’s style on the solidarity dimension—this “compensation effect” (see Kervyn, Yzerbyt, & Judd, 2010; Yzerbyt, Provost, & Corneille, 2005) may function as a sort of “token appeasement” on the part of the dominant group. However, if members of the dominant group perceive the subordinate group as threatening or competitive, they are likely to convey a preference for their own group’s style on both dimensions (see Fiske et al., 2002). Under conditions of social creativity, the subordinate group’s vitality may begin to increase (Ryan et al., 1984).

A final pattern is where subordinate and dominant groups both convey a preference for their in-group variety on status and solidarity. This is likely to emerge when subordinate group members perceive their position in the status hierarchy as illegitimate and unstable and engage in social competition—that is, they try to change their position in the status hierarchy through direct confrontation with the dominant group (e.g., language revitalization movements). Under conditions of social competition, the ethnolinguistic vitality of the subordinate group is likely to be high (Ryan et al., 1984).

Language Attitude Socialization

Language attitudes are socialized early in life (see Day, 1982). At a very young age, children tend to prefer their own language variety, regardless of whether it is standard or nonstandard. However, most (if not all) children gradually acquire the attitudes of the dominant group, showing a clear status preference for standard over nonstandard varieties. This typically occurs during the first years of formal education, though in some cases it may emerge much earlier.

Rosenthal (1974) examined 3- to 5-year-old black and white children’s attitudes toward Standard American English (SAE) and African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). The children were shown two identical cardboard boxes. Inside each box was a tape-recording of a speaker reading a passage in SAE or AAVE. The children listened to the two boxes talk; then, they were asked to either take a present from or give a present to the box of their choice and answer several questions. Both black and white children showed a clear preference for SAE over AAVE on the status dimension, associating the SAE-speaking box with high socioeconomic status (i.e., “has better presents”) and the AAVE-speaking box with low socioeconomic status (i.e., “needs the presents more”). Using the same technique, Day (1980) examined language attitudes among kindergarteners and first graders in Honolulu, Hawaii, toward SAE and Hawaiian Creole English (HCE). The children came from two schools: one was in a middle-class neighborhood and the other was in a working-class neighborhood. Among first graders, children from both schools preferred SAE over HCE on the status dimension, though this preference was stronger among children from the middle-class neighborhood. Among kindergarteners, children from the middle-class neighborhood slightly preferred SAE; however, children from the working-class neighborhood preferred HCE. In other words, the younger children were less in favor of SAE and some even preferred HCE (i.e., the in-group variety).

Similar findings have been obtained in other cultural settings. For example, Cremona and Bates (1977) examined language attitudes among Italian schoolchildren in a small rural town in Italy toward their own dialect—Valmontonese—and standard Italian. The youngest children (6-year-olds) showed an equal preference for both dialects. In contrast, 7-year-olds preferred standard Italian most of the time and 8-year-olds preferred the standard almost always. Similarly, Giles, Harrison, Creber, Smith, and Freeman (1983) investigated language attitudes among children in Bristol, England, toward British Received Pronunciation (RP) and the Welsh accent. Whereas 7-year-olds preferred the Welsh accent over RP on the status dimension, 9-year-olds evaluated the two accents similarly, and 10-year-olds showed a clear preference for RP. Together, this research suggests that language attitudes that privilege standard over nonstandard varieties, particularly on the status dimension, emerge at an early age among both standard- and nonstandard-speaking children and are well-developed by the time children enter elementary school.

Language-based stereotypes may be socialized in a number of ways, and through various agents (for an overview, see also Dragojevic, 2016). Most obviously, socialization may take place through face-to-face and mediated interactions with other individuals. For instance, people may be explicitly directed to speak a certain way or be criticized for using a particular variety. Such overt socialization typically occurs in educational settings, where the standard variety often functions as the code of instruction and tends to be promoted as the “best” and “most correct” way to speak. However, equally overt socialization can also take place in other contexts. For example, Marlow and Giles (2010) found that Hawaiian locals were often criticized in their day-to-day lives for their use of HCE (colloquially known as Pidgin) in a wide range of contexts, including peer-to-peer, family, and work-related interactions.

Language-based stereotypes may also be socialized through the media (Gluszek & Hansen, 2013). A growing body of literature shows that media portrayals of different linguistic groups are stereotypical in nature. For example, Lippi-Green (2012) examined how different linguistic groups were portrayed in Disney movies and found that foreign-accented characters tended to be portrayed in more negative roles than SAE characters. Similarly, Dobrow and Gidney (1998) analyzed children’s cartoons on cable and network television and found that villains were more likely to be depicted speaking with foreign accents—especially German, Russian, and other Eastern European accents—than native accents. A recent study by Dragojevic, Mastro, Giles, and Sink (2016) revealed similar patterns on American prime-time television. Specifically, whereas SAE speakers were overrepresented on television, nonstandard speakers were underrepresented, relative to their real-world distribution. Moreover, on the rare times when nonstandard speakers did appear on television, they tended to be portrayed less favorably on status (e.g., intelligence) and appearance (e.g., body mass) characteristics than SAE speakers.

Repeated exposure to such stereotypical media portrayals can contribute to language attitude socialization in at least two ways (Dragojevic, Mastro, Giles, & Sink, 2016; Mastro, 2009). First, media exposure can contribute to the formation of language-based stereotypes by helping shape what viewers come to believe are the prototypical features (e.g., roles, traits) associated with different linguistic groups, as well as by providing viewers with concrete exemplars in the form of media characters that use different language varieties. Second, media exposure can contribute to the maintenance of existing language-based stereotypes by increasing their accessibility in long-term memory. The media may be an especially influential socializing agent for viewers who are only beginning to develop, or have yet to develop, stereotypes about different linguistic groups (e.g., young children). Indeed, for many people, the media may be the first and sometimes only place where they are exposed to a particular language variety. In this respect, it may be a particularly influential agent in the formation of language-based stereotypes toward those varieties that people are least likely to be exposed to in their day-to-day lives.

Language Attitude Change

Because language attitudes are learned, they are inherently prone to change. One way language attitudes can change is in response to shifts in intergroup relations or government language policies. For example, Genesee and Holobow (1989) investigated how Canadians’ language attitudes toward French and English changed in the years following 1977 legislation that made French an official language in Quebec and, thereby, increased the vitality of French speakers in that cultural context. They found that, compared to 1960 (see Lambert, Hodgson, Gardner, & Fillenbaum, 1960), French Canadians were less likely to upgrade English speakers on solidarity traits, although they continued to attribute them more status relative to French speakers, arguably because English speakers continued to hold positions of higher absolute status. Similarly, Woolard and Gahng (1990) examined the attitudinal consequences of language policies intended to increase the vitality of the Catalan language in Catalonia. In an initial study conducted in 1980, both Catalans and Castilians attributed more status to Catalan than Castilian speakers, arguably due to the superior economic position of Catalans in that region. With respect to solidarity, each group gave the highest ratings to in-group members speaking the in-group language and the lowest ratings to in-group members speaking the out-group language; both groups were indifferent to out-group speakers, regardless of which language they used. In 1987, after seven years of Catalan language planning, the status of the Catalan language had changed little and both groups still attributed more status to Catalan than Castilian speakers. However, with respect to solidarity, in-group members were no longer so heavily penalized for using the out-group language and out-group members who used the in-group language were now rewarded with higher ratings.

Together, these studies suggest that government language policies—by producing structural shifts in intergroup relations or groups’ relative vitalities—can enable language attitude change, with status typically more difficult to change than solidarity. Such changes are likely to be relatively enduring. However, language attitudes can also change more dynamically, as when evaluations shift from one situation to the next in response to changes in the social comparative context in which they are evoked, as noted earlier (Abrams & Hogg, 1987; Dragojevic & Giles, 2014b); because such changes are context-dependent, they are inherently short-lived.

Communicative and Other Social Consequences

Language attitudes are not just mental output that resides in people’s heads, but can also be socially meaningful input that guides people’s behavior during social interaction. As such, language attitudes often go beyond inferences about speakers’ status and solidarity and can have significant communicative and other social consequences for those involved in a wide range of settings.

Willingness to Communicate

Negative language attitudes toward one’s own or another’s variety may sometimes preclude social interaction altogether (for an overview, see also Dragojevic, 2016). Some language varieties can be deeply stigmatizing to speakers, causing them to feel anxiety, embarrassment, and shame (Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010b). Consequently, people who have negative attitudes toward their own variety may try to conceal their speech by saying little during social interaction or avoiding it altogether, especially when they anticipate negative responses from others (Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010a, 2010b). Moreover, some speakers, particularly those with strong foreign accents, may believe that their speech causes communicative challenges, which may further increase their reluctance to engage with others. In turn, such avoidant behavior can lead to a lack of social belonging and other negative psychological outcomes (Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010a; Gluszek, Newheiser, & Dovidio, 2011). Similarly, negative attitudes towards others’ speech may lead people to avoid interactions with those individuals. For example, Derwing (2003) found that ESL students in Canada reported that others often ignored and avoided them, presumably due to their foreign accent. Relatedly, other research suggests that people who think foreign accents are controllable feel more uncomfortable talking with foreign-accented individuals and try to avoid those encounters more (for a discussion, see Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010b).

Adjustment

People’s language attitudes can also influence the types of communicative strategies they pursue during social interaction (for an overview, see also Dragojevic, 2016). Communication accommodation theory (CAT: Dragojevic, Gasiorek, & Giles, 2016; Giles, 1973, 2016; Giles, Coupland, & Coupland, 1991) posits that people adjust their communication during social interaction to manage social distance and signal their attitudes toward one another in the pursuit of positive personal and social identities. According to CAT, people can adjust their communication relative to one another in three basic ways. Convergence refers to a strategy whereby people adjust their communicative behaviors to become more similar to another’s. Divergence refers to a strategy whereby people adjust their communicative behaviors to be more dissimilar to another’s. Finally, maintenance refers to a strategy whereby people sustain their “default” level of communicating, without making adjustments for others. People’s attitudes toward their own and their conversational partner’s language variety can influence which strategy they adopt.

People who have positive attitudes toward their partner’s variety or negative attitudes toward their own variety are likely to engage in convergence—for example, adopt their partner’s variety—which tends to be positively evaluated. Conversely, people who have ambivalent or negative attitudes toward their partner’s variety or positive attitudes toward their own variety are likely to engage in maintenance or divergence—for example, sustain or accentuate their own variety—both of which tend to be negatively evaluated. For example, Bourhis (1984) had a female confederate approach Anglophone and Francophone pedestrians in downtown Montreal to ask for directions in either English or French. When she asked for directions in English, nearly all of the Francophone pedestrians replied in English (i.e., linguistic convergence). Conversely, when she asked for directions in French, nearly half of the Anglophone pedestrians replied in English (i.e., linguistic maintenance). These findings arguably reflect both Anglophone and Francophone’s more favorable attitudes toward English than French in that cultural context (Lambert, Hodgson, Gardner, & Fillenbaum, 1960).

Criticism

Beyond linguistic adjustment, negative attitudes toward another’s language variety may also lead to outright criticism and even threats of (and in some cases actual) physical violence (for a discussion, see Dragojevic, Giles, & Watson, 2013). Indeed, and as noted earlier, Marlow and Giles (2010) found that Hawaiian locals were often criticized for their use of Hawaiian Creole English (HCE) during employment, educational, familial, social, and community interactions. People’s responses to language criticism can vary widely, ranging from avoidance and apologies to humor and even aggression. How people respond to language criticism is likely to depend, at least in part, on how the criticism is delivered and the attributions people make about it. Marlow (2010) argues that criticism delivered with face-saving and supporting nonverbal cues is likely to evoke less defensiveness than criticism delivered directly or antagonistically. Similarly, criticism attributed to positive motives (e.g., helping) or external pressures (e.g., work regulations) is likely to result in less negative responses than criticism attributed to negative motives or internal causes. People’s responses to criticism are also likely to depend on their attitudes toward their in-group variety—those who hold negative attitudes toward their own variety are probably less likely to respond with defensiveness than those who have positive attitudes.

Behavioral Cooperativeness

Language attitudes have also been shown to influence behavioral cooperativeness during social interaction. In general, positive attitudes toward another’s language variety increase behavioral cooperativeness, whereas negative attitudes decrease cooperativeness. For example, Giles, Baker, and Fielding (1975) had a male confederate ask high school students to complete a questionnaire on psychology, voicing his request in either a British Received Pronunciation (RP) accent or a Birmingham accent (nonstandard variety). Results showed that the students provided considerably more written information on the questionnaire when the request was voiced in RP than a Birmingham accent, presumably due to their more favorable attitudes toward RP than British regional varieties. In a similar study, Giles and Farrar (1979) had a female confederate approach middle-class housewives at their home to ask for their cooperation in completing a questionnaire on a social issue. The confederate spoke either with an RP accent or a Cockney accent (nonstandard variety). Results indicated that the respondents provided longer responses (i.e., number of words written) when the request was made in RP than a Cockney accent. Finally, Bourhis and Giles (1976) had an announcer at a local movie theater make a request to patrons over the public address system to complete a questionnaire about future programs. The request was made either in RP or a Welsh accent (nonstandard variety). Results indicated that the ratio of completed questionnaires was higher when the announcement was made in RP than the nonstandard accent.

Comprehension

People’s language attitudes can also bias their judgments about how comprehensible others are and, in some cases, may actually impede comprehension (for an overview, see also Dragojevic, 2016). For example, Rubin (1992) found that American listeners rated the same SAE female speaker as more “accented” and performed worse on a recall task when the speaker’s voice was paired with a photo of an Asian than a Caucasian woman, ostensibly the speaker. In other words, categorizing the speaker as Asian not only activated the stereotype than foreigners are accented, but also impeded listeners’ comprehension, even though the speaker objectively had no foreign accent. Relatedly, Cairns and Duriez (1976) had Protestant and Catholic schoolchildren in Northern Ireland listen to a text read in an Irish or English (RP) accent and then take a factual test of the material. When the text was read in an English (RP) accent, Catholic schoolchildren performed significantly worse on the recall task than Protestant children, even though the two religious groups were equally familiar with that variety of speech. The authors attributed these findings to more negative attitudes toward RP speakers among Catholic than Protestant schoolchildren.

Notwithstanding, linguistic differences do sometimes pose real communicative challenges for interlocutors. Past research has shown that speech produced in accents different from one’s own, particularly foreign accents, is more difficult to process than speech produced in one’s own accent, as evidenced by lower perceived comprehensibility, lower accuracy, and longer processing time (for a review, see Cristia et al., 2012). Additionally, the more a person’s speech differs from one’s own (e.g., the stronger a speaker’s foreign accent is), the more difficult it is to process (Munro & Derwing, 1995). Such language-induced disruptions in processing fluency—that is, the ease or difficulty with which information is processed—are not inconsequential and can negatively bias listeners’ language attitudes, independent of stereotyping (cf. Dovidio & Gluszek, 2012). Indeed, listeners often rationalize and justify their negative evaluations of some speakers, especially those with foreign accents, based on the argument that their speech is difficult to process (Shuck, 2004, 2006).

Processing fluency can influence language attitudes in two ways (Dragojevic & Giles, 2016). First, it can have a direct effect on language attitudes through the application of naive theories, which provide relevant inference rules (Alter & Oppenheimer, 2009). For instance, people often place the communicative burden disproportionately on the sender, believing that it is primarily the sender’s responsibility to communicate his or her message in a way they can easily comprehend (Lippi-Green, 2012). As a result, they may interpret any difficulty they experience processing a message as indicative of the sender’s inability or unwillingness to communicate more clearly and, thus, attribute to the sender less status and solidarity, respectively. Second, processing fluency can influence language attitudes indirectly through affect (Dovidio & Gluszek, 2012; Reber, Schwarz, & Winkielman, 2004). High fluency is indicative of facilitated cognitive operations and tends to produce a positive affective reaction. Conversely, high disfluency is indicative of hindered cognitive operations and tends to produce a negative affective reaction. These fluency-based affective reactions can bias listeners’ language attitudes, with less fluent processing resulting in a more negative affective reaction and, in turn, more negative evaluations (cf. Greifeneder, Bless, & Pham, 2011).

The two routes just described are not mutually exclusive: Processing fluency can influence language attitudes both directly, through the application of naive theories, and indirectly, through affect. Regardless of route, both accounts predict that decreased fluency should result in more negative speaker evaluations. Several studies support this claim. For example, Dragojevic and Giles (2016) had participants listen to a Standard American English (SAE) or Punjabi-accented speaker reading the same short passage of text and manipulated their processing fluency by presenting the recordings to them either free of noise or mixed with background white noise of various intensity levels. Compared to quieter listening conditions, noisier conditions reduced processing fluency, elicited a more negative affective reaction, and resulted in more negative language attitudes. More important, processing fluency and affect mediated the effect of noise on language attitudes. Given that listeners heard the same speaker and categorized her in the same manner across the different noise conditions, these findings cannot be attributed to stereotyping.

In a related set of studies, Dragojevic, Giles, Beck, and Tatum (under review) had participants listen to a Punjabi- or Mandarin-accented speaker reading the same passage of text in either a mild- or heavy-accented guise. Compared to the mild-accented recordings, the heavy-accented recordings reduced listeners’ processing fluency, elicited a more negative affective reaction, and resulted in more negative language attitudes. Mediation analyses confirmed that processing fluency and affect (but not group prototypicality) mediated the effect of foreign accent strength on language attitudes. Given that listeners in both accent strength conditions heard the same speaker and categorized him in the same manner, these findings also cannot be explained by stereotyping. Together, this research suggests that more negative attitudes toward certain language varieties can be triggered simply by the increased effort required to process speech produced in those varieties, independent of stereotyping. In sum then, reduced comprehension of foreign-accented speech can result from both negative attitudes toward foreign accents, as well as objective processing difficulties associated with those accents.

Persuasiveness

People’s stereotypes about different linguistic groups can also influence their perceptions of speakers’ persuasiveness. Research on social influence has shown that communicators who advocate positions incongruent with the audience’s expectations tend to be perceived as more credible (and presumably more persuasive) than communicators who advocate positions congruent with the audience’s expectations (Eagly, Chaiken, & Wood, 1981; Eagly, Wood, & Chaiken, 1978). Audience members’ expectations about communicators’ likely views on various issues can be based on a wide range of factors, including communicators’ linguistic group memberships. Consistent with this, past research on language attitudes has shown that speakers who advocate positions stereotypically incongruent with their linguistic group memberships tend to be perceived as more persuasive and incur more attitude change in the advocated direction than speakers who advocate positions stereotypically congruent with their linguistic group memberships. For example, in England, support for trade unions would stereotypically be expected to come from the working class, whereas antithetical feelings toward trade unions would stereotypically be expected to come from the middle class. With this in mind, Powesland and Giles (1975) found that a speaker with an RP accent—which is stereotypically associated with the middle class—incurred more attitude change when he argued in favor of trade unions than against trade unions. Conversely, a speaker with a Bristol accent—which is stereotypically associated with the working class—incurred more attitude change when he argued against trade unions than in favor of trade unions.

Similar patterns of results have also been obtained in other cultural contexts. For example, in California, support for the English-only Movement (EoM)—which seeks to make English the official language of California and the United States—would stereotypically be expected to come from Anglo-Americans, whereas antithetical feelings toward the EoM would stereotypically be expected to come from Hispanic Americans. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Giles, Williams, Mackie, and Rosselli (1995) found that an Anglo-accented speaker arguing against the EoM was successful in reducing support for the issue among Californians, whereas the same speaker arguing for the EoM left respondents’ attitudes unchanged. Conversely, a Hispanic-accented speaker who argued in favor of the EoM produced significant attitude change toward the advocated position, whereas the same speaker produced no attitude change when he argued against the EoM. Stated differently, the Anglo-accented speaker was persuasive when he argued against (but not for) the EoM, whereas the Hispanic-accented speaker was persuasive when he argued for (but not against) the EoM.

Overt Discrimination

In some cases, negative language attitudes can also result in overt discrimination. Language-based discrimination has been documented in housing, employment, legal, and educational contexts, among others. For example, Purnell, Isdardi, and Baugh (1999) examined accent-based discrimination in the San Francisco Bay Area housing market. A tridialectical speaker—who could authentically adopt SAE, African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), and Chicano English dialects—telephoned prospective landlords in five different locales on three separate occasions, randomly using each dialect in different sequences. The proportion of confirmed appointments to view apartments in the different locales varied as a function of the caller’s dialect. For example, in traditionally white areas, the caller was more successful in getting an appointment when he spoke with an SAE than a nonstandard dialect.

Similar discrimination, favoring standard over nonstandard speakers, has been documented in employment settings (Lippi-Green, 1994). For instance, Giles, Wilson, and Conway (1981) found that English respondents judged an RP-accented speaker as more suitable for high-status positions (e.g., accounts manager) than low-status positions (e.g., cleaner), presumably reflecting the high status ratings typically attributed standard speakers. The opposite pattern emerged for a nonstandard accented speaker, who was judged as more suitable for low- than high-status employment. In a related study, Giles and Sassoon (1983) found that English students preferred an RP-accented speaker over a nonstandard-accented speaker as their potential work colleague, regardless of rank. Similar findings have been obtained in other cultural settings. For example, Rakić, Steffens, and Mummendey (2011b) found that, in Germany, prospective job candidates who spoke with regional German accents (e.g., Saxon, Bavarian) were judged to be less competent and hirable than those who spoke with a standard German accent. Relatedly, Carlson and McHenry (2006) found that American human resource management professionals judged speakers with stronger nonstandard accents as less employable than speakers with milder nonstandard accents.

Language-based discrimination has also been documented in legal settings. For example, Seggie (1983) had Australian participants listen to a recorded conversation in which an alleged criminal pleaded his innocence and then assessed his guilt. The alleged criminal spoke with an RP accent, a broad Australian accent, or an Asian accent. Results indicated that the suspect’s accent significantly influenced respondents’ ratings of his guilt, but that the nature of this influence varied as a function of the crime he was accused of (blue-collar vs. white-collar). Specifically, when the crime was embezzlement (white-collar), the RP speaker was judged more guilty; conversely, when the crime was physical assault (blue-collar), the broad Australian-accented speaker was judged more guilty. These findings presumably reflect social stereotypes about the likely actions of different linguistic groups, with speakers of prestige varieties seen as more likely to commit white-collar crimes and speakers of stigmatized varieties seen as more likely to commit blue-collar crimes.

Similar findings have been obtained in other cultural settings. For example, Dixon, Mahoney, and Cocks (2002) had participants listen to a recording of an ostensible police interview in which the suspect pleaded his innocence of a crime of which he had been accused. The suspect spoke with an RP accent or Birmingham accent (nonstandard variety). Results indicated that the suspect was judged to be significantly more guilty of the crime—especially if it was a blue-collar crime—when he spoke with a Birmingham accent than an RP accent. In a related study, Dixon and Mahoney (2004) found that a Birmingham-accented suspect was judged to be typically more criminal and more likely to be re-accused of a crime than an RP-accented suspect, regardless of the strength of evidence presented or the type of crime the suspect was accused of.

Language-based discrimination has also been documented in educational contexts (for a comprehensive overview, see Edwards, 2010). For example, Choy and Dodd (1976) found that teachers in Hawaii consistently evaluated nonstandard Hawaiian English speakers less favorably than SAE speakers, making negative inferences about the former’s personalities, social background, and academic abilities. Moreover, they expected Hawaiian English speakers to perform worse in the future and be less likely to engage in prestigious occupations than SAE speakers. Relatedly, Taylor (1983) found that teachers who had negative attitudes toward AAVE rated a student delivering an oral presentation in AAVE as lower in reading comprehension than a student delivering an equivalent oral presentation in SAE. Teachers can also be the targets of language-based discrimination. For example, Rubin (1992) found that a teacher’s foreign accent significantly influenced students’ ratings of the teacher—the stronger the teacher’s foreign accent was perceived to be, the lower the students’ ratings of the teacher’s effectiveness. Beyond the obvious negative implications of such findings for foreign-accented instructors’ prospects for promotion and tenure, other research suggests that students’ negative language attitudes may also have more direct behavioral consequences. For instance, Rubin and Smith (1990) found that nearly half of the students in their sample reported dropping out or withdrawing from classes upon finding out the instructor was a nonnative English speaker.

Language Learning and Maintenance

Language attitudes also have implications for second- and foreign-language learning, as well as language maintenance (for an overview, see also Dragojevic, 2016). Positive attitudes toward an out-group’s language are likely to encourage and facilitate learning of that group’s language, whereas negative attitudes are likely to discourage and impede it (Gardner, 1982). In multilingual societies and among immigrants in foreign countries, positive attitudes toward one’s own variety, especially when coupled with perceptions of high ingroup vitality, are likely to result in additive bilingualism, wherein the acquisition of a second language does not detract from the maintenance of one’s first language (Bourhis, Sioufi, & Sachdev, 2012). Conversely, negative attitudes toward one’s own variety, particularly when coupled with perceptions of low ingroup vitality, are likely to result in subtractive bilingualism, wherein the acquisition of a second language leads to a gradual loss of one’s first language.

Principles of Language Attitudes and Future Directions

In their recent review of the language attitudes literature, Dragojevic, Giles, and Watson (2013) proposed several heuristic principles of language attitudes, which were further refined by Giles and Rakić (2014) and Dragojevic (2016). In light of the foregoing, the following revised and expanded principles are proposed:

  1. I. Language attitudes reflect, at least in part, two sequential cognitive processes: social categorization and stereotyping. First, listeners use language cues (e.g., accent) to make inferences about speakers’ social group membership(s) (e.g., ethnicity, social class). Second, based on that categorization, they attribute to speakers stereotypic traits associated with those inferred group membership(s).

  2. II. Language-based categorization is an inherently variable process. Listeners can use the same language cue to categorize speakers at varying levels of specificity and with varying degrees of accuracy, depending on their familiarity with the target variety and the social comparative context in which categorization occurs. Different categorizations activate different stereotypes.

  3. III. Language-based stereotypes are organized along two primary evaluative dimensions: status (e.g., intelligent, educated) and solidarity (e.g., friendly, pleasant).

  4. IV. Status attributions primarily reflect perceptions of socioeconomic status. Because standard varieties tend to be associated with dominant socioeconomic groups in a given society, standard speakers are typically attributed more status than nonstandard speakers. This is especially true in status-stressing contexts, such as the workplace or school, where strong social norms may operate to prescribe the use of standard varieties. The stronger one’s nonstandard accent, the more negatively the person tends to be evaluated.

  5. V. Solidarity attributions primarily reflect in-group loyalty. Language is an important symbol of social identity and people tend to attribute more solidarity to members of their own linguistic community (i.e., in-group members), especially if that community is characterized by high or increasing vitality (i.e., status, demographics, institutional support). This is especially true in solidarity-stressing contexts, such as the home and family, where competing social norms may operate to prescribe the use of in-group varieties. In this respect, nonstandard varieties can sometimes possess covert prestige, which is one important reason they continue to survive.

  6. VI. Language attitudes are socialized early in life. At a very young age, children tend to prefer their own language variety. However, most (if not all) children gradually acquire the attitudes of the dominant group, showing a clear status preference for standard over nonstandard varieties around the first years of formal education and, in some cases, much earlier. Language attitudes can be socialized through various agents, including educators, peers, family, and the media, among others.

  7. VII. Because language attitudes are learned, they are inherently prone to change. Language attitudes may change in response to changes in intergroup relations and government language policies, as well as more dynamically as a function of the social comparative context in which they are evoked.

  8. VIII. Language attitudes are not just mental output that resides in people’s heads but can also be socially meaningful input that guides people’s behavior. Accordingly, once evoked, language attitudes can have myriad behavioral consequences, with negative attitudes typically promoting prejudice, discrimination, and problematic social interactions.

As the foregoing attests, research on language attitudes has flourished since Lambert’s seminal work on the subject and the invention of the matched-guise technique (MGT) in the 1960s (Lambert, 1967; Lambert, Hodgson, Gardner, & Fillenbaum, 1960). Important strides have been made not only in documenting people’s attitudes toward different language varieties worldwide and cross-culturally, but also in identifying some of the cognitive and affective processes that underlie them, as well as their communicative and other social consequences. Looking ahead, a number of exciting new directions and prospects beckon (see also Dragojevic, 2016). First, whereas past research has primarily focused on documenting attitudes toward relatively broad categories of linguistic variation, such as specific languages, accents, and dialects, future research might profitably examine the social meanings attending more “molecular” aspects of linguistic variation (cf. Bradac, Cargile, & Hallett, 2001), such as individual lexical items or grammatical constructions (see also, Edwards, 1999). Second, given the central role that social categorization plays in the language attitudes process (Ryan, 1983), future research should continue to examine how various listener characteristics (e.g., familiarity with a target variety) and contextual factors (e.g., social comparative context; co-presence of linguistic and nonlinguistic cues) influence how listeners categorize speakers—both in terms of accuracy and specificity—and how variation in categorization influences language attitudes. Third, beyond status and solidarity, future research might examine some of the more localized and historical meanings associated with some varieties—e.g., religiosity, modernity—which may prove to be equally important predictors of behavior in some intergroup contexts. Fourth, and related, future research should also afford more attention to the affective and behavioral components of language attitudes, as well as continue to investigate other social and psychological outcomes of language attitudes (e.g., psychological well-being). Fifth, although past research has identified some of the many agents of language attitude socialization (e.g., peers, media), the socialization process itself remains relatively understudied. Finally, future studies should continue to examine how other factors—beyond those discussed herein (e.g., listeners’ processing dynamics; see Bradac, Cargile, & Hallett, 2001)—may mediate and moderate the language attitudes process. Such research is important not only for its potential to further theoretical understanding of the language attitudes process, but also, more practically, to aid in the design of effective interventions to reduce language-based prejudice and discrimination, which remain prevalent worldwide. With these and other exciting future prospects, it is hoped that innovative, cross-disciplinary research on language attitudes will continue to flourish for decades to come.

Further Reading

Bauer, L., & Trudgill, P. (Eds.). (1998). Language Myths. London: Penguin.Find this resource:

Garrett, P. (2010). Attitudes to language. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Giles, H., & Billings, A. (2004). Language attitudes. In A. Davies & E. Elder (Eds.), Handbook of applied linguistics (pp. 187–209). Oxford: Blackwell.Find this resource:

Giles, H., & Coupland, N. (1991). Language attitudes: Discursive, contextual and gerontological considerations. In A. G. Reynolds (Ed.), Bilingualism, multiculturalism, and second language learning: The McGill Conference in honor of Wallace E. Lambert (pp. 21–42). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Find this resource:

Giles, H., & St. Clair, R. N. (Eds). (1979). Language and social psychology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Find this resource:

Giles, H., & Watson, B. (Eds.). (2013). The social meanings of language, dialect, and accent: International perspectives on speech styles. New York: Peter Lang.Find this resource:

Ryan, E. B., & Giles, H. (Eds.). (1982). Attitudes towards language variation: Social and applied contexts. London: Edward Arnold.Find this resource:

Scherer, K. R., & Giles, H. (1979). Social markers in speech. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

References

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Alter, A. L., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2009). Uniting the tribes of fluency to form a metacognitive nation. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 13, 219–235.Find this resource:

Ball, P. (1983). Stereotypes of Anglo-Saxon and non-Anglo-Saxon accents: Some exploratory Australian studies with the matched-guise technique. Language Sciences, 5, 163–184.Find this resource:

Bayard, D., Weatherall, A., Gallois, C., & Pittam, J. (2001). Pax Americana? Accent attitudinal evaluations in New Zealand, Australia, and America. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 5, 22–49.Find this resource:

Bourhis, R. Y. (1984). Cross-cultural communication in Montreal: Two field studies since Bill 101. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 46, 33–47.Find this resource:

Bourhis, R. Y., & Giles, H. (1976). The language of cooperation in Wales: A field study. Language Sciences, 42, 13–16.Find this resource:

Bourhis, R. Y., Giles, H., & Rosenthal, D. (1981). Notes on the construction of a “Subjective Vitality Questionnaire” for ethnolinguistic groups. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 2, 144–155.Find this resource:

Bourhis, R. Y., & Sachdev, I. (1984). Vitality perceptions and language attitudes: Some Canadian data. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 3, 97–126.Find this resource:

Bourhis, R. Y., Sioufi, R., & Sachdev, I. (2012). Ethnolinguistic interaction and multilingual communication. In H. Giles (Ed.), The handbook of intergroup communication (pp. 100–115). New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Bradac, J. J., Cargile, A. C., & Hallett, J. S. (2001). Language attitudes: Retrospect, conspect, and prospect. In W. P. Robinson & H. Giles (Eds.), The new handbook of language and social psychology (pp. 137–155). Chichester, U.K.: Wiley.Find this resource:

Brown, B. L., Giles, H., & Thakerar, J. (1985). Speaker evaluations as a function of speech rate, accent, and context. Language & Communication, 5, 207–220.Find this resource:

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