Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Nina Moreno


Nonnative English speakers are often judged based on their accent, but accent is perceived as well as produced. Race, gender, and religion interact to create complex and nuanced figures of personhood (Agha, 2005) impacting teachers' perceptions of students. Teachers' individual differences, including language proficiency, exposure to language, and previous training, also affect pronunciation ratings (e.g., Kang, 2008, 2012; Kang & Rubin, 2009). This dissertation investigated English as a second language teachers at evangelical English programs in South Carolina, addressing how teacher backgrounds interacted with institutionally circulating ideologies of race, gender, and religion, and these factors' impact on ratings of student speech.

Qualitative methods included ethnographic observation and interviews, informing the design of a quantitative metric, a matched-guise pronunciation rating task wherein teachers rated the accentedness of speech samples matched with fabricated dossiers of "students." Target stimuli included native English speakers paired with combinations of race, gender, and religion to isolate the effects of perceived student identity on accentedness ratings.

Qualitative analysis revealed institutional practices and frameworks of the schools’ purpose that aligned with the historical legacy of colonialism and its push to assimilate students both culturally and linguistically. However, not all individuals took up the institutional values. Quantitative results were analyzed using mixed-model linear regressions, demonstrating that teachers at both sites rated Afghan “students” higher than white “students” (p=0.071) and rated men higher than women (p<0.05). Teachers with more experience provided lower ratings (p<0.001). Results also showed a trend for the number of second languages (L2s) a teacher spoke correlating with higher ratings; the teacher who spoke seven L2s rated students higher than did teachers with one L2 (p<0.01). Together, ideologies circulating at these institutions and metrics of teachers’ engagement in reverse linguistic stereotyping provide a more complete picture of the biases operating unconsciously in these ESL programs. This research makes an important contribution to the field of second language acquisition and to TESOL in particular because it pushes for greater inclusivity, sensitivity, and diversity. By shifting the focus of accent in the classroom from the student to the listening subject, this research holds implications for moving towards systemic change of accent discrimination, rather than focusing on individual remediation.


© 2023, Ruthanne Joy Wenger Hughes

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