The ATA Chronicle - January/February 2021 - 36

INTERPRETERS FORUM

By Sandra Dejeux

accents and decided on
the truthfulness of the
information. During the first
phase, they corroborated the
hypothesis that people tend
to distrust foreign accents
and give less credibility to
their statements. During the
second phase, the researchers
tried to counterbalance the
negative impact of accent bias
by telling the subjects of the
study that the speakers were
only reading the statements
off a script. Participants were
able to correct their behavior
when the accent was subtle,
yet statements were still
perceived as less credible

Overcoming Accent Bias
in the Courtroom

when the accent was heavy.

Recently, I attended an online seminar about implicit bias in court settings.
Among other things, the presenter spoke about accent bias and how, in
some cases, it can undermine the credibility of a witness. Later, I read an
article that stated that sometimes juries give less credibility or stop paying
attention to expert testimony when the expert has a strong accent.

English speaker for whom

Again, I found myself
wondering if an interpreter's
accent might also undermine
the credibility of a nonthey are interpreting. I
couldn't help but think how
ironic it would be if this
was the case, especially
since individuals often
choose to communicate

The following was originally
published on the blog of
ATA's Interpreters Division,
www.ata-divisions.org/ID/blog.

36

T

he idea that some juries,
judges, and English
speakers, in general,
are more prone to distrust
witnesses and defendants
with heavy accents didn't
come as a surprise. I
occasionally hear passiveaggressive comments or
uncomfortable jokes about
someone's accent behind
closed doors. However,
knowing that interpreters can
also have accents, I became
increasingly intrigued about
the possible effect of accent
bias when assessing the
credibility of a witness.
It seemed that more
thorough research on the
topic was in order, so I read
as many studies and

The ATA Chronicle | Januar y/February 2021

articles on it as I could. The
literature on the subject
confirmed that there is
often distrust of people with
certain regional or foreign
accents. Several authors
hypothesized that it was due
to negative stereotypes.
One study in particular
caught my attention. Instead
of focusing on socio-economic
factors that contribute
to accent bias, this study
focused on the difficulty
of understanding words
pronounced by non-native
speakers and the impact that
this can have on the speaker's
credibility. Researchers
designed an experiment where
subjects listened to statements
read by people with foreign

through interpreters so their
statements will be received
without any language
barrier interference.
After reading studies
indicating that foreign accents
could affect the credibility of a
witness, my question now was
how to combat accent bias
inside courtroom settings.

Looking for Solutions
During the online seminar I
attended, one of the viable
solutions offered was to have
judges address the issue in
the jury instructions. While
jury instructions may be a
good start, it seems unlikely
that jurors will set aside their
conscious or unconscious bias
simply because a judge adds
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The ATA Chronicle - January/February 2021

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