Psychology Magazine

Social Class is Revealed by Brief Clips of Speech.

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds
Kraus et al. - a collective modern version of Professor Henry Higgins in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion - offer a detailed analytic update on how social class is reproduced through subtle cues expressed in brief speech. Here is their abstract:
Economic inequality is at its highest point on record and is linked to poorer health and well-being across countries. The forces that perpetuate inequality continue to be studied, and here we examine how a person’s position within the economic hierarchy, their social class, is accurately perceived and reproduced by mundane patterns embedded in brief speech. Studies 1 through 4 examined the extent that people accurately perceive social class based on brief speech patterns. We find that brief speech spoken out of context is sufficient to allow respondents to discern the social class of speakers at levels above chance accuracy, that adherence to both digital and subjective standards for English is associated with higher perceived and actual social class of speakers, and that pronunciation cues in speech communicate social class over and above speech content. In study 5, we find that people with prior hiring experience use speech patterns in preinterview conversations to judge the fit, competence, starting salary, and signing bonus of prospective job candidates in ways that bias the process in favor of applicants of higher social class. Overall, this research provides evidence for the stratification of common speech and its role in both shaping perceiver judgments and perpetuating inequality during the briefest interactions.
Here is a sample explanatory clip from their results section:
A total of 229 perceivers were asked to listen to the speech of 27 unique speakers whose utterances were collected as part of a larger sample of 189 speakers through the International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA). These 27 speakers varied in terms of age, race, gender, and social class, which we measured in the present study in terms of high school or college degree attainment. Our sample of perceivers listened to 7 words spoken by each of the speakers presented consecutively and randomly without any other accompanying speech and answered “Yes” or “No” to 4 questions: “Is this person a college graduate/woman/young/white?” Participants answered these 4 questions in a randomized order, and we calculated the proportion of correct responses for each question...

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