Accent evaluation and the perception of spoken threats

James Tompkinson

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceUnpublished Conference Paperpeer-review


Although we may consider the existence of a ‘threatening tone of voice’, there is little empirical evidence on what, if any, aspects of speech can make somebody sound threatening. This study presents an exploratory examination of whether or not a speaker's accent can affect how threatening they are perceived to be. Participants provided evaluative responses to a series of direct and indirect threats recorded in three British English accent guises: Received Pronunciation, London Cockney and Northern Irish. The results showed that the non-standard London Cockney accent was rated as sounding significantly more threatening than the RP and Northern Irish guises in the indirect threat condition. Trends in the data also support the assertions that stereotypes about certain accents and threat types can change over time in response to changing world dynamics, with a bomb threat in a Northern Irish accent evaluated as being more threatening by older listeners compared to younger listeners. The London Cockney accent was also rated as being less threatening in the indirect condition by listeners from the South of England compared to those from the North, suggesting that listener geographical background could further influence evaluations of threats. The results highlight a potential issue for the legal system if evaluative judgements about a speaker’s accent can influence listener perceptions of potential language crimes.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventPostgraduate Academic Researchers in Linguistics at York (PARLAY) Conference 2015 - York, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Sept 201511 Sept 2015


ConferencePostgraduate Academic Researchers in Linguistics at York (PARLAY) Conference 2015
Abbreviated titlePARLAY
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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