Untrustworthy foreigners and duck accents

duck-talking-150x150.jpgIt’s no secret that as well as loving linguistics, I am also a bit of a science nerd.  As such, I’m a big fan of Dr Karl Kruszelnicki and listen to the podcast of his Triple J talkback show every week.  A couple of weeks ago a caller had a question that combined science and language.  He was asking whether or not animals have different ‘accents’ depending on where they come from, e.g. would two dogs of the same breed sound different if one was from Australia and one was from the UK.  Dr Karl’s answer was ‘almost certainly’, most likely related to the environment that the animal lives in, and might even be related to the exposure that the animals have to human speech and noises.

He mentioned Dr Victoria de Rijke, aka ‘Dr Duck’, who has done studies with Middlesex University on the differences between the quacks of ducks in central London and ducks living in the Cornish countryside.  According to the study, pressures of city life and competing noise lead ‘Cockney’ ducks to use loud blasting quacks, whereas the ducks living in the countryside can get away with lower, more relaxed, laughing quacks.   This makes a lot of sense, since ducks all need to be heard by other ducks, but city ducks need to work a bit harder at it.

Another interesting aside that Dr Karl slipped in (I do so love his tangentially related tidbits of information) is that it’s been shown that people are less likely to believe or trust someone who has a foreign accent.  We’re not talking about native speakers from other countries (e.g. Australians vs Americans), but people who are obviously non-native speakers.  This study showed that there was a significant difference in how credible participants thought speakers were, dependent on whether they had a native, moderate, or strong accent when speaking English.  I suppose that if a person sounds less confident in speaking, it may be misconstrued as them being less confident about what they are saying, which often is not the case.  It’s a bit worrying to think that there might be unconscious racism going on just because someone has an accent.  Does that mean that Cornish ducks wouldn’t believe Cockney ducks?

Listen to the original podcast here (the bit about the ducks is around 32 minutes in), subscribe to it here, and/or follow Dr Karl on Twitter.