Judging the Immigrant

Accents & Attitudes
Umea Studies in Language & Literature No. 10


By Niklas Torstensson
April 2010
Umea University
Distributed by
ISBN: 9789172648821
118 pages
$45.00 Paper original

Spoken language as a means of communication contains huge amounts of information apart from the linguistic message that is conveyed. It is often the first channel of interaction between people and based on the speaker's manner of talk, we create a mental image of the speaker as a person, of the speakers background, origin and personal qualities.

Through five case studies, this dissertation investigates how immigrants to Sweden are judged based on their foreign accents and how the use of an interpreter in court can affect the legal process and the judging of the immigrant. It was found that although Swedish students hol predoninantly positive attitudes towards immigration and immigrants, they judge immigrant accents based on perceived social desirability, or perceived cultural distance between the listener and the voice's country of origin.

This suggests that even among a group who are positive to immigrants and immigration some groups immigrants are more that welcome than others. When this finding is placed in the bilingual court room and coupled with a lack of knowledge about cultural differences in dialogues strategies, discourse disfluencies and an interpreter who speaks foreign accented Swedish, it becomes clear that some immigrant groups are at a double legal disadvantage when being judged.


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