The general consensus about last week’s world accent test is that it was very difficult, but also quite fun. Everyone also wanted to know the answers to the quiz. I’m not going to make it that easy for you, but at the end of the post I will offer a way for you to figure out which is which.
The test required participants to listen to ten people from different parts of the world reading the same English text sample (via the fantastic Speech Accent Archive). Then they had to choose which accent was which from a list of 15 countries (actually 15 countries and 2 U.S. states). Which accent was easiest to recognize? Alabama! Eighty-eight percent of respondents correctly identified this accent (though this result was statistically indistinguishable from Wisconsin, with 86.5 percent correct). Here’s a chart showing accuracy for all 10 accents tested:
Next in the ratings were Pakistan and Ireland, with 75 and 71 percent accuracy. You might argue that the ratings were swayed by a disproportionate number of U.S. respondents. So what happens when people educated or living in the U.S. are removed from the sample? Pakistan, Ireland, Wisconsin, and Alabama move into a virtual tie, with roughly 70 percent accuracy for each.
So how do Americans compare with the rest of the world in judging accents? When you remove the home-field advantage of Wisconsin and Alabama, people educated or living in the U.S. are roughly as accurate as people educated or living elsewhere in the world.
We also asked respondents to report their gender. Did men or women have an advantage in judging accents? Women initially appeared to have a slight edge judging U.S. accents compared to men. But further investigating revealed a very interesting tidbit about Cognitive Daily readership. In past Casual Friday studies we’ve noticed that CogDaily has more male than female readers, and this study was no exception: we found about a 60:40 male-female ratio. Oddly, the gender ratio is not the same around the world:
So while in the U.S. and Canada, the ratio is about 56:44, in the rest of the world, it’s 76:24 — that’s quite a difference! It’s enough to explain the entire female advantage judging U.S. accents. Any speculation from our readers about why non-U.S. readership is so overwhelmingly male?
Some other observations about the data:
- I was surprised that more people didn’t get the Italian accent — it seemed right out of central casting to me.
- The choice of distractors probably had a lot to do with accuracy. I suspect if we’d included another U.S. state in the choices, accuracy for U.S. accents would have been much lower. Likewise, “Ireland” was helped by the fact that “Scotland” or “England” wasn’t an option, and “Australia” was probably harmed by the fact that “South Africa” was in the list of distractors.
- I wish I’d included a question like this: “Is English your native language?” I think we might have had a significant result there, with native speakers being more accurate in judging accents.
- Our sample size was a little too small to tell for sure, but from the data we had, it appears that people weren’t any better at judging accents from their own region than anyone else — Asians weren’t more accurate judging Asian accents, and Europeans weren’t better at judging European accents.
Now, about those answers… I’m not going to give them to you, but what I will do is include all the samples here, and you can guess them in the comments. I’ll let you know when you’ve got them.
So more people can play, let’s limit each guesser to two accents. You’ve got an advantage over the original participants, because there are no distractors — you can see the list of possible accent origins on the graph above.