Do you put flowers in a vahz or a vayce?
Who cares, right? To-may-to, to-mah-to …
Well, actually, a lot of us seem to care about the way we pronounce words. As study after study has confirmed, the way we speak influences the way others perceive us. Linguists sometimes refer to this phenomenon as the accent prestige theory: the belief that certain types of accents, because of their historical associations with high society, are more prestigious than others. According to this theory, we attach social judgments to people's accents. And as research shows, these judgments can influence something as superficial as how physically attractive we find someone or something more substantial like hiring practices.
This week, more research came out to confirm that we attach judgments to accents. The company behind the study was eBay — yes, really — who, in addition to selling LeBron James' old underwear, also conducts studies. For example: how many of its users say vahz versus how many say vayse. eBay has a huge pottery and glass page, and some of the researchers attached to the company began to wonder about the accent divide among their audience.
The study was simple enough. Give about 1,000 people six words that are often pronounced in two different ways, and ask them to attach value judgments to the different pronunciations. As the results below show, language is a social indicator.