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Anglo-Australian and non-Anglophone middle classes: 'foreign accent' and social inclusion.


This paper examines social inclusion of a cohort that has made up the largest component of Australian immigration over the past several decades: skilled migrants from non-English-speaking countries proficient in English who aspire to join the ranks of the Australian middle class through employment in occupations commensurate with their skills. (1) Paid employment is considered a key indicator of social inclusion in general (The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia 2013, 88, 95; The Australian Government 2013); for skilled immigrants in Australia, being able to make a successful professional transition following migration is a key aspect of successful settlement (Colic-Peisker 2011b; The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia 2013). Other elements of social inclusion, such as establishing social networks and social capital post-migration are significantly facilitated by gainful employment. In turn, all aspects of social inclusion are dependent on migrants' English language ability, and, as shown by a number of studies, also on having the 'right accent' (Callan & Gallois 1987; Lindemann 2003; Creese 2010; Fraser & Kelly 2012)

This paper builds on a concept of the 'multicultural middle class' (MMC) proposed by Colic-Peisker (2011a). Skilled and professional intakes from non-English speaking countries, a consequence of highly selective skills-focused Australian immigration policy over the past 35 years, are its key component. Apart from skilled and professional migrants from non-Anglophone countries, the MMC also includes the Australian-born 'second immigrant generation' of non-Anglophone origin who work in the white collar and professional sectors (ibid.). Given that we were primarily interested in speakers of English as a foreign/second language and the impact that their 'foreign accent' may have on their professional success and social mobility in Australia, we excluded the second immigrant generation from our sample because this group speaks English with a native Australian accent. (2) At the same time, they cannot be included in our definition of 'Anglo-Australians'. We therefore focus on only one group constitutive of MMC: first-generation immigrants whose first language is not English. In academic literature and policy documents this group has been known as 'NESB' ('non-English-speaking background') and more recently as CALD ('culturally and linguistically diverse'). We use the attribute 'non-Anglophone' for this group, due to our socio-linguistic focus and the inadequacy of the current official designation 'CALD'. (3)

Australia's linguistic diversity is increasing, as is the level of English spoken by non-Anglophones, both of these facts reflecting the expansion of the multicultural middle class. Skilled migrants proficient in English currently account for two-thirds of the planned settler intake (DIAC 2010) and have become a growing and recognisable part of Australian society. To this group, a large and increasing number of those who arrive on a long-stay temporary working visa (457) should be added. (4) As a consequence, people talking with various 'foreign accents', those visibly different from the white majority, and those with non-Anglo names--or any combination of the three--have an increasing presence in the white-collar and professional sectors of the Australian workforce. They are therefore likely to interact regularly with the Anglo-Australian majority in the workplace and, by extension, also in social situations.

We conducted a web-based survey of two groups of informants: 'Anglo-Australians' and 'non-Anglophone immigrants'. For the purpose of this study, 'Anglo-Australians' are defined as people born in Australia who grew up in families/households where only English was spoken and who therefore speak with a native Australian accent. 'Non-Anglophone immigrants' are defined as people who arrived in Australia as adults, having grown up speaking a language other than English (LOTE), and who therefore usually speak English with a 'foreign accent'. The accents of people from Commonwealth countries where English is either an official language or a language of widespread communication (e.g., India, Ghana or other 'outer circle' countries, cf. Kachru 1992), are also counted as 'foreign accents' because they are recognised as such in the Australian socio-linguistic environment (e.g., 'Indian accent', 'African accent'), even though many people from these countries may consider English their first language (cf. Mesthrie 2010). (5) Speakers of these varieties of English were included in this study as 'non-Anglophone immigrants'. However, adult immigrants who are native speakers of 'inner-circle' varieties of English, for example, British, New Zealand, American and Canadian English (Kachru 1992) are excluded from the sample. The inclusion of speakers of 'outer circle' English-speakers and the exclusion of 'inner circle' English-speakers is based on differential perceptions that speakers of 'inner circle' varieties have of each other, as opposed to the perception of the 'outer circle' (6) or even 'expanding circle' countries, given that English nowadays features as a global lingua franca or the 'international language' (cf. Kachru 1992; Lippi-Green 2012; Brutt-Griffler & Samimy 2001).

We are of course aware that 'country of origin' is not the only and final determinant of accent; racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups within the same country may have recognisably different languages and accents. In addition, race, ethnicity and even gender may have a significant influence on how the person's speech and accent is understood, perceived and valued. For example, Creese (2010) analysed devaluing and 'erasing' English language competency of black African immigrants in Canada, whose physical appearance influences other people's perceptions of their language proficiency and accent. It is likely that similar processes are at work in Australia. Language and accent are almost always embodied and the embodiment is relevant in the communication process. (7)

Backgrounded by a brief discussion of Australia's immigration policy and language demography, this paper addresses two central questions. First, does 'foreign accent' matter in Australian professional and social settings? Second, has the MMC become a force towards a higher appreciation of bilingual, multilingual and multicultural competence--that is, is 'foreign accent' becoming a form of symbolic capital rather than a liability to non-Anglophone immigrants?


The past forty years have witnessed significant changes in Australia's immigration policies and demographic structure. In the post-war decades, a large contingent of non-Anglophone immigrants arrived, most of them continental Europeans who typically took blue-collar jobs in the manufacturing and construction industries. As a consequence, the linguistic and cultural divide of Anglophone vs. non-Anglophone neatly translated into a gap in occupational status and income, reflecting the labour market segmented along ethnic lines (Collins 1991; Jupp 2002; Jakubowicz & Moustafine 2010; Colic-Peisker 2011a). At the time, bilingualism was considered a liability and post-war assimilation policies and public attitudes encouraged non-Anglophone immigrants to abandon their first language and shift to English (Jupp 2002; Clyne 1994). This expectation was contradicted by their placement in the secondary labour market--almost exclusively low-skilled blue-collar jobs where their interaction with Anglo-Australians, and therefore opportunities to improve their English, were minimal (Colic-Peisker 2008; Jupp 2002; Collins 1991).

Economic restructuring that started in the 1970s and 1980s and the transition to a service economy brought about a change in the profile of immigrants to Australia. In 1980, the immigration 'points test' was introduced, which meant that educational qualifications, vocational skills and English proficiency assumed primacy in the process of immigration selection. Since then, large intakes of highly skilled non-Anglophone immigrants have changed the socio-economic profile of the non-Anglophone minority population in Australia (Jupp 2002; Colic-Peisker 2011a; 2011b). Due to highly selective skill-focused immigration, the overseas-born Australian residents originating in non-Anglophone countries who arrived after 1980 have a better educational profile than the Australian-born population (DIBP 2013; Colic-Peisker 2011a). A large majority of skilled immigrants is proficient in English, as shown below.

The result of selective immigration focused on language proficiency and skills is that the reported level of English among the Australian residents who speak a LOTE at home has never been higher. The pertinent census question contains the following wording: 'How well does the person speak English? Very well; Well; Not well; Not at all.' Table 1 presents the data from three most recent censuses: Australian residents who report that they 'speak English only', 'speak another language and English well or very well' (the first two responses to the Census question collapsed into one group) or 'speak another language, and English not well or not at all' (the last two responses to the Census question collapsed into one group).

Table 1 shows that the proportion of Australians who speak 'English only' at home has decreased from 80 per cent in 2001 to 76.8 per cent in 2011. This can be attributed to the increasing proportion of non-Anglophone immigrants in the total population. In the ten-year period, the number of non-Anglophones has increased by almost one million, and the percentage of those who 'speak another language and English well or very well' has increased from 12.5 per cent to 15.2 per cent. This increase cannot be accounted for simply by the number of established migrants who report improved English over time (cf. Rivera-Batiz 1990). Rather, it is due to the arrival of large numbers of non-Anglophone immigrants who are proficient in English, as for most of them this was a prerequisite for an Australian residency or working visa. The percentage of those speaking English 'not well' or 'not at all' has increased slightly, by 0.2 per cent.

While fluency in English may be achieved by most skilled adult arrivals, 'native-speaker'-like facility with the language of the host society (e.g., speed of reading, listening comprehension) is, for post-adolescent migrants usually unattainable, although 'expert' (high-proficiency) speakers may in some situations pass as 'native' speakers (Stevens 1999). Studies of Anglo-Australian attitudes towards 'foreign' accents reach back 30 years (e.g., Ball 1983; Callan et al. 1983). In one of the earliest, Callan, Gallois & Forbes (1983, 407) state that 'accented speech is often a readily recognisable cue to group membership and an important determiner of the personality judgements of ingroup and outgroup members' (see also Callan & Gallois 1987 for a review of studies on attitudes towards 'accent'). Much subsequent research has confirmed English-speaking informants' recognition of accents according to group (e.g., Lindemann 2003; Kraut & Wulff 2013) and negative normative judgements on educational level (e.g., Fraser &c Kelly 2012) or other personal attributes based on the 'foreign accent' of the speaker (e.g., Fayer & Krasinski 1987).

On the other hand, the attitudes towards accents representative of cultures/ peoples whose languages informants are learning themselves can as a result be positive (Eisenchlas & Tsurutani 2011). An American study by Alvarado (2009) showed that greater fluency in a LOTE corresponded with a more favourable perception of immigrants. This is a situation that pertains to only a small minority of Anglo-Australians, even if Kerr's (1981) description of Australia as 'the land of the monoglot' and Bostock's (1973) judgment that Australia is 'the most monolingual industrialised nation in the world' (both cited in Callan & Gallois 1987, 49) should probably be toned down nowadays, if for no other reason than the presence of a considerable bilingual--and often multilingual--overseas-born population. In our survey, 22.6 per cent of Anglo-Australians reported 'speaking another language to a least working level'. This group reported the highest levels of interaction with non-Anglophones and the lowest levels of intergroup communication problems due to either imperfect language proficiency or 'foreign accent', or both.

The value judgment on accents, either positive or negative, is primarily a prerogative of the 'native' majority, which situates the communication process in the field of power (Bourdieu 1991; Creese 2010; Brutt-Griffler & Samimy 2001). Communication is not only an overt exchange of information but also a more or less covert exchange in the economy of symbolic power. Language is at the same time a medium of communication and an instrument of distinction; it may indicate the speaker's regional or ethnic origin, socio-economic background or 'class' and other characteristics. In the Australian context, the distinction enjoyed by standard Australian English compels other cultures and speeches designated as 'accented' to define themselves by their distance from the dominant language and culture (cf. Bourdieu 1991, 167; Piller 2011; Harrison 2013). The fact that English is a global lingua franca is likely to widen the power gap between 'native' and 'non-native' speakers. Available research shows that in this economy of symbolic power, the non-Anglophone immigrants in English-speaking countries who speak with a 'foreign' accent are allocated lower status (Callan & Gallois 1987; Creese 2010; Harrison 2013). The significance of this is not, of course, just symbolic: the 'right' accent can be a point of inclusion or exclusion from the desirable end of the employment market and from high status 'bridging networks'. Our study sought to test some of these assumptions empirically and provide further evidence on the relevance of 'accented speech' in social inclusion of immigrants in Australia.

Method and sample of respondents

This paper is based on data collected through a survey of two groups distinguished by their socio-linguistic profiles: Anglo-Australians and non-Anglophone immigrants (defined above). We excluded two in-between categories who are neither Anglo-Australians nor non-Anglophone immigrants: first, Australian-born speakers of Australian English who are children of non-Anglophone migrant parents, and second, adult immigrants who are native speakers of 'inner-circle' varieties of English, for instance, British, New Zealand, American and Canadian English (Kachru 1992). We constructed two equivalent questionnaires, one for Anglo-Australians and the other for non-Anglophone immigrants.

The first part of the questionnaire collected basic demographic and socio-economic information about respondents: age, gender, education, occupation, employment sector, urban/rural residence, and for immigrants also country of origin and length of residence in Australia. The second part of the questionnaires asked about the level of interaction with the other group, at work and socially, including intermarriage. The third part of the questionnaires contained about 20 Likert-scale questions, with a five-point scale from 'strongly agree' to 'strongly disagree'. These questions explored mutual perceptions of the two groups and a general perception of Australia as a diverse society. Non-Anglophones were asked about their experiences of being accepted and valued in the employment market, in their specific workplace, and in social situations where they mixed with Anglo-Australians. The emphasis was on socio-linguistic features: their perception of the relevance of having a 'foreign accent' in the Australian white-collar workplace and in social life.

We kept the questionnaires short in order to secure a high response rate. There were 34 questions designed for Anglo-Australian informants and 36 questions in the questionnaire for non-Anglophone informants--the non-Anglophones were also asked about their country of origin and year of arrival in Australia. The wording of questions was adjusted to the two groups so that the questions are equivalent rather than identical. The survey was specifically designed for this study with the questionnaire design based on practices common in sociology and sociolinguistic (e.g., Lindemann 2003; Fraser & Kelly 2012) and language attitude research (Garrett 2010; Tsurutani & Selvanathan 2013). Given that positive wording of questions is likely to entice higher levels of agreement and therefore lead to a 'social desirability bias', we include some negatively and some positively worded questions. (8) We piloted the survey on five respondents from each group and asked them to provide either verbal or written feedback, which we then used to fine-tune the wording of questions.

Potential participants were contacted by investigators via personal emails, starting from our occupational and social networks. Participants were asked to fill in an internet-based survey and requested to forward the explanatory statement and details of the internet survey to others; therefore some responses were elicited through snowballing. Sampling of participants targeted middle-class professionals such as administrative and teaching staff in the vocational education sector, professionals in mining, IT and healthcare sectors, while fellow academics made up less than a quarter of the direct contacts. Potential respondents were informed that the study explored 'linguistic and cultural diversity among middle-class Australians'. (9) Non-Anglophone participants were required to have a minimum period of five years' residence in Australia. This condition sought to ensure that they have had substantial experience in the Australian workplace. A large majority of both sub-samples consisted of university educated people who worked in professional jobs, which is why we categorise them as 'middle class'. During March and April 2013, 134 Anglo-Australians and 106 non-Anglophone Australians responded to the survey. Several respondents had to be excluded from the data because they did not match the required profile. In this way we were left with 134 valid responses from Anglo-Australians and 103 valid responses from non-Anglophone immigrants. Demographic details of the two groups are provided in Table 2.

Overall, the demographic data above shows a higher representation of female informants (58 per cent). The average age for Anglo-Australians was 49 and for non-Anglophones 46. Both averages are around 10 years older than the Australian median age of 37 (ABS 2013a). An older average age is due to our study being focused on adults with considerable work experience in the white-collar sector. The slightly younger average age of non-Anglophones is due to the age limit (<50 years old) that applies to skilled immigrant applicants (DIAC 2013). The high percentage of both groups of informants residing in metropolitan areas (90 and 94 per cent respectively) is unsurprising given that a large majority of Australians reside in the capital cities (ABS 2013b); this is also where skilled immigrants tend to settle because white-collar and professional jobs are concentrated in large cities.

The educational levels of both groups were very high--an overwhelming majority of the total sample held university degrees (219 out of 237). Within the non-Anglophone sub-sample nearly one half of respondents had a university degree and a further 47 per cent held postgraduate degrees. Only four per cent of non-Anglophone respondents were not university educated. The most frequently stated occupations were engineer (18), researcher (12), academic, lecturer and similar (11) and manager (10). Twenty-one per cent of non-Anglophone immigrants worked in the government sector, 29 per cent in education or health, and 50 per cent in the private sector. Anglo-Australians were more concentrated in the government sector, with 36 per cent of them working there, 38 per cent in education or health, and 30 per cent in the private sector. Anglo-Australians had a marginally lower educational profile, with eight per cent of respondents who did not have a university degree.

In terms of ethnic background of the non-Anglophone respondents (n=103), just over half were from Europe, 40 per cent from Asia, and the remainder from Latin America and Africa. The time of arrival ranged from 1966 to 2008, and the average length of residence in Australia was 15.5 years. About one half of respondents migrated to Australia in the 2000s, and the other half in the 1980s-1990s.

Intergroup contact: intermarriage, friendships and workplace interaction

Our data show high reported levels of interaction between the two groups. This is an expected sample selection effect, given that we targeted professionally educated and employed people from both groups, and also a consequence of the fact that immigrants, including those from non-Anglophone backgrounds, are over-represented in the Australian workforce. In some professions, such as engineering and nursing, immigrants are significantly over-represented; for example, more than half of Australian engineers are non-Anglophone immigrants (Hawthorne 2005). DIBP (2013a) reported, using 2009-11 data from the Continuous Survey of Australia's Migrants (CSAM), that migrant's labour force participation rates were considerably higher than that of the general population: 96 per cent for skill-visa entrants (who now represent over two thirds of the total settler intake) or 29 points higher than the 67 per cent participation rate for the general population. This is the consequence of the sharply human capital-focused immigration program, which also strongly favours immigrants of 'prime working age' (25-44) (ibid.).

The nationality and linguistic background of the spouse or partner of a person is an important feature in linguistic demography, especially language maintenance and language shift (for exampe, a total switch to English following migration). Sociological studies of migrant and/or minority populations show that intermarriage with the majority population leads to a higher degree of assimilation, and that the level of intermarriage is a key indicator of the mainstream acceptance of a minority population (Lieberson & Waters 1988; Waters 2000; Scott 2006). Exogamy is known to have a dramatic effect on the language spoken at home; for example, a language shift to English among endogamous couples from China is only 17 per cent, but for a China-born person in a relationship with a non-Chinese person, the shift to English as the reported 'home language' is 53 per cent (Clyne 2011, 66). An implication of a shift to English as the home language is that a person in such an exogamous relationship tends to have a significant level of communicative fluency in English. Furtado & Theodoropoulos (2007) found that a high level of education as well as high pre-migration English skills function as facilitators for migrants to enter into exogamous relationships. They concluded that fluent English facilitates contact with potential out-group spouses/partners and a high level of education provides the migrant with confidence in dealing with the possible challenges of a cross-cultural relationship (Furtado & Theodoropoulos 2007, 9, 12).

Friendship is a metric commonly used in sociolinguistic research in the Fishman (1966) tradition, which adopts a domain-based analysis of language use. Sociolinguistic studies treat 'friendship' as a domain in which the language background of interlocutors can be co-indicative of language maintenance or shift (Stoessel 2002). In the Australian context the shift to English is a tacit expectation in intercultural friendships. Tables 4 and 5 present data on intergroup intimate relationships and close friendships.

Table 4 above shows similar levels of exogamy in both groups at 20 and 23 per cent respectively. The Anglo-Australians had a higher percentage of 'not applicable' responses, presumably respondents who are single. Cross-tabulations of the exogamy variable with questions on 'fair society' and 'feeling accepted' show that non-Anglophones partnered with Anglo-Australians did not have significantly different perceptions of the 'fair society'--they tended to agree more cautiously; fewer people 'strongly agreed'--or their individual feelings of 'being accepted'. However, they reported more Anglo-Australian friends and 'close colleagues'.

Table 5 shows that in both groups, having 'several' close friends from outside one's own group was the single most common response. Non-Anglophones reported a substantially higher incidence of this--56 per cent--compared to 40 per cent for Anglo-Australians. Only six per cent of non-Anglophones reported no Anglo-Australian close friends, while nearly a quarter of the Anglo-Australians reported that they had no close non-Anglophone friends. There is a higher likelihood that members of minority groups have contact with majority groups than vice versa; friendship often develops from a chance encounter, which, statistically, is more likely to be the case with the majority group. The 56 per cent of non-Anglophones who reported having 'several' Anglo-Australian 'close friends' suggests a high level of social connectedness of the 'multicultural middle class' to the Anglo-Australian majority.

Unsurprisingly, the most intensive interaction between the two groups occurred in the workplace, where 62.5 per cent of Anglo-Australians talked to non-Anglophone colleagues regularly or often, and 73 per cent of non-Anglophones had many Anglo-Australian close work colleagues.

Intergroup communication

In our online survey, the two groups of informants were asked about their experiences in the domain of communication and language and about mutual perceptions in the domain of speech and intergroup comprehension. They were also asked about their perceptions of foreign accent as an obstacle to workplace communication and social engagement. These data are presented in Tables 7 and 8.

Most Anglo-Australians reported having no intergroup communication problems due either to lack of fluency or to the accent of non-Anglophones (Questions 1 and 2 in Table 7). Only 9 per cent and 16 percent of Anglo-Australians respectively reported having some problems with intergroup communication due to either of the two issues. In both questions only two per cent strongly agreed that communication problems existed. Seventy and 76 per cent respectively disagreed with these contentions. Such an impressive absence of communication problems can be a consequence of the specific, mainly professional background of both groups and the workplace setting, where most encounters occur.

The third question in Table 7 addresses Anglo-Australians' perception of the intelligibility of their own speech to non-Anglophones. A relatively low proportion of 20 per cent reported being concerned about not being understood. Sixty-two percent disagreed with this contention.

The fourth question elicited Anglo-Australians' responses on non-Anglophones' knowledge of Australian cultural nuances. Informants overwhelmingly (85 per cent) disagreed that a lack of such knowledge constitutes an obstacle to intergroup communication. Question five is similar, but focused on the workplace, asking about cultural-pragmatic knowledge of non-Anglophones, and again Anglo-Australians overwhelmingly disagreed that this may be an issue hindering intergroup communication. Of all responses that expressed reservations about intergroup communication, it is noteworthy that speaker-to-hearer miscommunication is more commonly reported to be a problem when an Anglo-Australian speaks to a non-Anglophone, rather than 'accented' speech being a problem for Anglo-Australians. The ease of intergroup communication reported by our sample of respondents can at least partly be attributed to the high frequency of intergroup contact (reported in the previous section) and the linguistic competence of both groups: English fluency of the non-Anglophones--a pre-requisite for the Australian skilled visa and a condition for professional employment in Australia--and a relative absence of broad Australian vernacular in this particular middle-class professional setting.

In the data presented below, non-Anglophones rated their spoken and written English skills, the problems they may have had with being understood due to their non-Australian accents, and their comprehension of speakers with a broad Australian accent.

Table 8 above shows that 58 per cent of the non-Anglophones 'strongly agreed' and 34 per cent 'agreed' that their spoken English was fluent. This is not surprising considering that all of our respondents were in professional employment. Their written English skills were self-rated at a similarly high level. Only 18 per cent of non-Anglophones 'disagreed' or 'strongly disagreed' that they had an easily recognisable accent, while two-thirds 'agreed' or 'strongly agreed' that they did. Fluency and a recognisable accent are not mutually exclusive attributes and informants' responses suggest that many claimed to have both, which was expected given a sample of people who grew up speaking a LOTE. As to the reported incidence of accent being the reason why others may ask them to repeat themselves, only one quarter agreed that this happened to them, while nearly half disagreed. In response to question five (Table 8), a feeling of accent-related 'self-consciousness' was a concern for one-third of non-Anglophone respondents. The picture that emerges from the non-Anglophones' responses is that in self ratings they were a group of highly proficient speakers and users of English whose foreign accent was rarely an obstacle to verbal communication or work-related interaction, and who had little difficulty comprehending 'broad' local accents.

Perceptions of social inclusion of non-Anglophones in Australia: select indicators

In the last data section of this paper we present survey data on the perceptions of foreign accent as an obstacle to social engagement and occupational success, preferences (intra- or intergroup) to occupational and social interaction, and the differences in the overall perception of 'friendliness' of the Australian society. Table 9 shows non-Anglophone immigrants' perceptions of the impact of their foreign accent--that is, its social connotations--on their career success in Australia.

The two items in Table 9 inquired about the same issue, but are differently worded: the second includes the 'foreign name' with the accent. The responses show a wide range of perceptions, especially in the first item, which is more positively worded. Over one third of respondents believed they would have been more successful in their job or career if they did not have a foreign accent and, by implication, if they were not exposed to negative stereotyping targeting people who speak with foreign accents. There was more reluctance to accept the suggestion of 'disadvantage' in terms of work promotion on the basis of foreign name and/or accent (item 2 in Table 9), which may be due to the socially desirable tendency to avoid agreeing with negative statements or a tendency of denying a possibility of being a victim. It is significant, however, that a large proportion of respondents disagreed with both statements (one-fifth 'strongly disagreed'), projecting a very positive message about their workplace experience in Australia. Table 10 shows responses to another pair of similar items inquiring about non-Anglophones' general Australian experience.

The responses to those two items are exceedingly positive, with only a tiny proportion of respondents disagreeing about feeling welcomed in Australia and accepted among Anglo-Australians. The response to item 2 is less emphatically positive, with fewer respondents strongly agreeing and almost one-fifth of respondents choosing the neutral response.

Table 11 presents a comparative perception of Anglo-Australians. It is interesting that they seem to be much more sceptical about their native country being a 'friendly and welcoming country to non-Anglophone people'. The responses are concentrated in the middle, with the largest proportion of respondents being undecided.

The difference in the perception of Australia as a 'friendly and welcoming country' between Anglo-Australians and non-Anglophones is remarkable. We performed a Chi-square test which showed that the difference is highly statistically significant at the p=0.01 level. Why are Anglo-Australians in this particular sample much more critical of Australia than the non-Anglophone immigrants? Part of the reason may be that over two-thirds of the Anglo-Australian sample worked in the public sector, including the education and health sectors, where there may be a heightened sensitivity to equal opportunity and discrimination issues, whereas our non-Anglophone sample was concentrated in the private sector. In addition, being critical of one's own country may be seen as a prerogative as well as a duty--or at least as a form of political correctness--by the educated and progressive middle-class. The fact that many Anglo-Australian respondents were critical of Australia's welcome to non-Anglophones is also consistent with the findings of racism research, where white Anglo-Australians tend more readily to perceive racism than those immigrants who are likely to be on its receiving end, such as people from South Asia and the Middle East (Dunn & Nelson 2011). Different expectations and levels of sensitivity may play a role in these different perceptions.

In Table 12, we cross-tabulated the responses to three select items from the survey of non-Anglophones with their 'European' and 'non-European' origin. In other words, we divided the non-Anglophone sample into two groups, using 'Europeans' and 'non-Europeans' as a proxy for the perception of racial embodiment in order to determine whether there were significant differences in Australian experiences and perceptions between those who are perceived as 'white' and those who are perceived as 'non-white'.

We performed a Chi-square test to see whether differences between the responses of 'Europeans' and 'non-Europeans' to these three items were statistically significant. We found that there was no statistically significant difference (at the 0.05 level) between the two groups in answering items 1 and 3. That is, the perceptions of foreign accent as an obstacle to career advancement and the feeling of being different because of the accent did not differ significantly between non-Anglophones from European backgrounds and those from non-European backgrounds. However, there was a statistically significant difference in a general perception of Australia as a 'friendly and welcoming country' (item 2, p=0.025). Non-Anglophones from a non-European background, who are more likely to be a target of racist prejudice and discrimination, had a less favourable general perception of Australia as a friendly and welcoming country. This may mean that a foreign accent per se was perceived to be less of an issue than racial visibility in the society, which has historically been predominantly 'white' and where echoes of the 'White Australia Policy' still reverberate.


In response to our research questions--does foreign accent matter in Australian middle-class settings, and is it still a liability in the context of the growing multicultural middle class?--our data suggest that foreign accent is becoming increasingly 'normalised' and losing its stigma as an unwanted social marker.

We did not investigate the impact of racial visibility and embodied difference on social inclusion. Nonetheless, when our sample is disaggregated into 'Europeans' and 'non-Europeans', our data suggest, alongside much other research from Australia and comparable countries, that the impact of 'race' on immigrants' social inclusion and people's life chances in general--including Indigenous populations that may be racially but not linguistically different--may remain significant (Forrest & Dunn 2008; Lindemman 2003; Creese 2010; Colic-Peisker & Tilbury 2007; Taylor et al. 2011, 23). Therefore, while non-Australian accents in themselves may be on the way to becoming a generally unremarkable attribute of workplace and social communication in middle-class contexts, the racial embodiment of the speaker may significantly mediate the perception of speaker's accent--as indeed may many other characteristics.

With the increased contact of Anglo-Australians and the multicultural middle class in the professional arena, a foreign accent in itself may have become less of a symbol of otherness and non-belonging to the predominantly Anglophone society, and it may, at least in middle-class contexts, be on the way to becoming a symbol of desirable cosmopolitanism and communicative chic extending beyond traditional Anglo-Australian monolingualism. This may especially apply to accents that connect the speaker with attractive places and/ or ethno-national groups perceived as cultured. Some foreign accents, for example, a French accent, may be seen as a symbol of cultural sophistication and desirable bilingualism, as a reflection of general Francophilia in many English-speaking countries. Some other accents may enjoy a less universal prestige, but nonetheless grant a speaker some desirable features: e.g., German and Scandinavian accents may create an expectation of technical competence and precision, while Italian and Spanish accents are associated with artistic and gastronomic refinement. At the same time, our data indicate that a feeling of accent-related 'self-consciousness' remains a concern for a large minority (one-third) of non-Anglophone respondents.

Our findings are congruent to those reported by Kraut & Wulff (2013, 260) and Alvarado (2009) that those US-English speakers who reported more social contact with 'foreign-accented speech' and spoke a LOTE held more positive attitudes towards 'accented' speech than those who reported lower levels of contact with speakers with foreign accents and were monolingual. Most Anglo-Australians in our sample had frequent social contact with non-Anglophones and even closer work-related contact with them. A non-native accent was not reported as an obstacle to either bi-directional communication or a pretext to exclude non-Anglophones from the desirable end of the employment market and middle-class social networks. There appears to be relatively unhindered intergroup contact both in professional and social arenas. On the part of non-Anglophone immigrants, the picture of their self-reported social inclusion that emerges from the data is also very positive, although with significant critical elements, as reported above.

Our findings so far are considerably different from most previous studies in this area. To date, research by sociolinguists and sociologists has shown that there is still some way to go before a foreign accent becomes a neutral or socially unmarked feature that does not attract negative stereotyping. As we also know from sociolinguistic research, accents and speech varieties will always remain as identifiable features reflective of a speaker's background. Ethno-cultural, educational, socio-economic and occupational attributes of a speaker are almost always reflected in his/her speech. In the perceptions of many middle-class non-Anglophones, there still exists an 'accent ceiling' as a marker of foreignness that may detract from an applicant's merit in the employment market (Colic-Peisker 2002; 2011b; Harrison 2013; Hawthorne 2005). As already noted, not all non-Anglophone speech varieties, and their racial embodiments, enjoy an equal level of acceptance: some accents may be less desirable than others to some interlocutors, and people who are more ethno-racially 'visibly different' from the white majority may attract prejudice and suffer discrimination. Our further research will seek to interrogate the generally high level of acceptance of non-Anglophone immigrants and the intergroup communicative harmony suggested by the survey data through in-depth interviews.

Previous studies also indicate that the level of neutrality and acceptance of foreign accents may be much lower in non-middle-class professional settings, with more prejudices directed towards women than men (e.g., Creese 2010; Harrison 2013). A study by Haubert & Fussell (2006) found that people's attitudes towards immigrants, diversity and cultural difference are to a significant degree determined by their education and socio-economic background. This paper indicates that antipathies towards accented speech are not pronounced in middle-class professional settings and that accent-related miscommunication seems not to be characteristic of interactions of non-Anglophone immigrants with Anglo-Australians in that environment.

It is worth keeping in mind, however, that 'political correctness' and 'social desirability bias' are likely to play a role in respondes, even in an anonymous survey. In addition, our particular non-Anglophone sample--highly educated, professionally employed and therefore in a crucial sense 'socially included' may see occasional disturbances in communication channels as non-essential and not worth reporting. They may have also over-reported their English proficiency and an absence of foreign accent as they are not likely to receive overt feedback on this from their Anglo-Australian colleagues and friends. Another issue that should not be forgotten in this context is that many non-Anglophone professionals who immigrate to Australia are not able to secure jobs commensurate with their skills (Ho & Alcorso 2004; Hawthorne 2005; Colic-Peisker 2011b; Birrell & Healy 2013) and that language and accent are likely to be a factor in this. Therefore, we would be likely to obtain a different and no doubt less positive picture if unemployed and under-employed respondents were included in our sample. Finally, a positive picture emerging from our data reflects specific experiences and attitudes of a relatively small sample of gainfully employed middle-class professionals that cannot be extrapolated to either the general population or different workplace and social contexts. With all of these factors in mind, we cautiously conclude that the 'multicultural middle class' may be experiencing increasing levels of social inclusion in the occupational and community domains of Australian life.


We would like to thank our respondents for taking part in the survey and helping to distribute it. We are grateful to anonymous reviewers and AJSI editors for their helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this paper, and for the quick turnaround during the peer-review process.


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(1.) This research project has been approved by the Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee (MUHREC). Project No. 2008000994.

(2.) Some members of this group may still remain linguistically identifiable by features of their vernacular: see Hlavac (2003).

(3.) 'CALD' ('culturally and linguistically diverse') officially replaced the hitherto official Australian descriptor 'non-English speaking background' (NESB)in 1996 by a decision of the Council of Ministers. While 'NESB' was somewhat cumbersome, it was self-explanatory, whereas CALD leaves its reference point unexplained--'linguistically and culturally diverse' in relation to who/what?

(4.) At 30 June 2013, there were 191,200 subclass 457 visa holders in Australia, of whom .56.5 per cent were primary visa holders, an 18.6 per cent increase in primary visa holders from the same date a year earlier (DIBP 2013b).

(5.) For example, they may have had their schooling in English while speaking a local language at home; they may not be literate in the local language and therefore English is their first language for most practical purposes (cf. Creese 2010; Mesthrie 2010).

(6.) Mesthrie (2010, 595) refers to these countries as 'ESI. [English as a Second Language] territories'.

(7.) Unless one listens to the radio or an audio recording, where the speaker is 'disembodied"--apart from the gender that can usually be attributed.

(8.) A copy of the questionnaires can be obtained on request.

(9.) A further definition of 'middle class' provided in the Explanatory Statement contained the following wording: '"Middle-class" refers to people who have completed post-secondary education and who work(ed) in the "white collar" section of the Australian workforce'.

(10.) The questions in Table 6 are an example of 'equivalent rather than identical wording' (see Methods section). The starting assumption was that non-Anglophones in Australian professional workplaces inevitably often communicate with Anglo-Australians but they may not have Anglo-Australian 'close colleagues'; while not all Anglo-Australians are in the situation to talk often to 'accented' speakers among their 'co-workers and colleagues' (rather than, for example, service staff such as cleaners, couriers, etc., the distinction brought to our attention while we piloted our survey). The questions worded this way were intended to ensure that responses pertain to "horizontal' collegial communication between Anglo-Australian professionals and the 'multicultural middle class' in the workplace.
Table 1: English proficiency: 2001, 2006 and
2011 Australian Censuses (%)

                                  2001     2006     2011
                                 Census   Census   Census

Speaks English only               80.0     78.5     76.8

Speaks another language,          12.5     13.1     15.2
and English well or very well

Speaks another language, and      2.8      2.8      3.0
English not well or not at all

Not stated                        4.7      5.6      5.0

Total population                 100.0    100.0    100.0

Source: 2013

Table 2: Sample characteristics


                                   Number   percent

                       Male          52       39

                      Female         82       61

Sex, age and          24-34          25       17
place of
residence             35-44          30       22

                      45-54          35       26

                   55 and over       41       31

                   No response       3         2

                     Ave. age        49

                    Age range      24-82

                   Metro. Area      121       90

Education level   Secon. School      7         5

                   Voc. Diploma      4         3

                    Uni Degree       59       44

                  P-grad Degree      63       47

                   No response       1         1

Employment *      Public sector      48       36
                  Educ. / Health     51       38

                  Private sector     41       30

                    Not stated       0


                                   Number   percent

                       Male          48       47

                      Female         55       53

Sex, age and          24-34          24       23
place of
residence             35-44          31       30

                      45-54          30       29

                   55 and over       17       16

                   No response       1         1

                     Ave. age        46

                    Age range      26-69

                   Metro. Area       96       94

Education level   Secon. School      1         1

                   Voc. Diploma      3         3

                    Uni Degree       49       48

                  P-grad Degree      48       47

                   No response       2         2

Employment *      Public sector      22       22
                  Educ. / Health     30       29

                  Private sector     50       49

                    Not stated       1


                                   Number   percent

                       Male         100       42

                      Female        137       58

Sex, age and          24-34          49       21
place of
residence             35-44          61       26

                      45-54          65       27

                   55 and over       58       24

                   No response       4         2

                     Ave. age        48

                    Age range      24-82

                   Metro. Area      217       92

Education level   Secon. School      8         3

                   Voc. Diploma      7         3

                    Uni Degree      108       46

                  P-grad Degree     111       47

                   No response       3         1

Employment *      Public sector      70       30
                  Educ. / Health     81       34

                  Private sector     91       38

                    Not stated       1         1

Notes: * The total percentage exceeds 100 because several
respondents chose more than one response due to overlapping

Table 3: Non-Anglophones: region of origin, time of arrival
and length of residence in Australia (%)

Origin                    Europe           53

                           Asia            38

                          Africa           5

                      Latin America        4

Immigration             1966-1979          6

                        1980-1989          21

                        1990-1999          23

                      2000 and after       47

                        Not stated         3

Length of Residence        Mean        15.5 years
in Australia
                          Median        14 years

Table 4: Intermarriage between Anglo-Australians and
non-Anglophones (%)

Intermarriage    Anglo-Australians *   Non-Anglophones **
                       (n=129)              (n=101)

Yes                      20                    23
No                       62                    66
Not applicable           18                    11

Notes: * 'Is your spouse/partner a non-Anglophone Australian?'
** 'Is your spouse/partner Anglo-Australian?'

Table 5: Close friendships between Anglo-Australians
and non-Anglophones (%)

              Anglo-Australians *   Non-Anglophones **

Several               40                    56
One or two            37                    38
None at all           23                    6

Notes: * 'Do you have any close friends who are non-Anglophone
Australians?' ** 'Do you have any close friends who are

Table 6: Intergroup interaction in the workplace * (%)

Anglo-Australians *          Non-Anglophones **

Regularly             38.5   Many           73
Often                 24     One or two     22
Sometimes             24     None at all    5
Very rarely           13.5

Notes: *'How often do you verbally communicate with
non-Anglophone co-workers or colleagues?'

** 'Do you have close work colleagues
who are Anglo-Australians?' (10)

Table 7: Anglo-Australians: perceptions of communication
with non-Anglophones (%)

                            Strongly   Agree   Neither agree
                             agree             nor disagree

I often cannot understand      2         7          16
what non-Anglophone
people say because their
English is not
100 percent

I often cannot understand      2        14          14
what non-Anglophone
people say because they
have a strong accent

When I talk to                 0        20          18
non-Anglophone people,
I am concerned that they
will not understand me

I find communicating           0         4          10
with non-Anglophone
people awkward because
they often do not
understand Australian
customs and niceties

I prefer to work with          1         5          14
Anglo-Australians because
there is less explaining
to do and less chance
of misunderstanding

                            Disagree   Strongly

I often cannot understand      52         24
what non-Anglophone
people say because their
English is not
100 percent

I often cannot understand      49         21
what non-Anglophone
people say because they
have a strong accent

When I talk to                 42         20
non-Anglophone people,
I am concerned that they
will not understand me

I find communicating           45         41
with non-Anglophone
people awkward because
they often do not
understand Australian
customs and niceties

I prefer to work with          35         45
Anglo-Australians because
there is less explaining
to do and less chance
of misunderstanding

Table 8: Non-Anglophones: English fluency,
accent and comprehension (%)

                                       Strongly   Agree   Neither agree
                                        agree             nor disagree

My spoken English is fluent               58       34           7

My written English is of                  51       37          10
a high standard

I have an easily recognisable accent      28       38          16

People often ask me to repeat what        4        23          26
I just said, probably because
of my accent

My foreign accent makes me feel           1        32          25
'different' and sometimes

I have difficulties understanding         6        15          21
Anglo-Australians with a broad
Australian accent

                                       Disagree   Strongly

My spoken English is fluent               1          0

My written English is of                  2          0
a high standard

I have an easily recognisable accent      8          10

People often ask me to repeat what        25         23
I just said, probably because
of my accent

My foreign accent makes me feel           23         19
'different' and sometimes

I have difficulties understanding         41         17
Anglo-Australians with a broad
Australian accent

Table 9: Foreign accent and career success: non-Anglophones'
perceptions (%)

                             Strongly    Agree     Neither agree
                              agree                nor disagree

I would have been more          9          25           25
successful in my
job/career if I didn't
have a foreign accent

My foreign name and/or          2          20           26
accent are a disadvantage
in terms of work promotion

                             Disagree   Strongly        Not
                                        disagree    applicable

I would have been more          21         20            0
successful in my
job/career if I didn't
have a foreign accent

My foreign name and/or          27         20            5
accent are a disadvantage
in terms of work promotion

Table 10: Non-Anglophones: feeling welcomed and accepted? (%)

                          Strongly    Agree     Neither agree
                           agree                nor disagree

Australia is a friendly      28         53           14
and welcoming country

I feel accepted among        19         59           19

                          Disagree   Strongly

Australia is a friendly      3          2
and welcoming country

I feel accepted among        2          1

Table 11: Anglo-Australians' perceptions of Australia as a friendly
country to non-Anglophones

                            Strongly    Agree     Neither agree
                             agree                nor disagree

Australia is a friendly        2          32           38
and welcoming country
to non-Anglophone people

                            Disagree   Strongly

Australia is a friendly        24         4
and welcoming country
to non-Anglophone people

Table 12: Non-Anglophones' responses to select social
inclusion items: Europeans vs. non-Europeans (%)

                              Strongly    Agree       Neither agree
                              agree                   nor disagree

N = Non-Europeans             N     E     N     E     N     E
E = Europeans

1. My foreign accent makes    22    18    15    30    32    16
me feel different and
sometimes self-conscious

2. Australia is a friendly    16    36    58    49    24    7
and welcoming country

3. I would have been more     22    19    17    24    20    31
successful in my job/career
if I didn't have a foreign

                              Disagree    Strongly

N = Non-Europeans             N     E     N     E
E = Europeans

1. My foreign accent makes    29    36    2     0
me feel different and
sometimes self-conscious

2. Australia is a friendly    0     6     2     2
and welcoming country

3. I would have been more     28    20    13    6
successful in my job/career
if I didn't have a foreign
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Author:Colic-Peisker, Val; Hlavac, Jim
Publication:Australian Journal of Social Issues
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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